There’s a whole new world underneath the Antarctic ice sheet full of life and color that has left even the best scientific minds baffled. Discovered by a team of Australian researchers with the help of a camera-equipped remotely operated vehicle (or ROV), this vibrant wonderland is located beneath the O’Brien Bay in the eastern part of Antarctica. The video recorded by the ROV in turn showcases the brilliantly lively underwater universe existing in what is usually thought to be a cold, sterile region.
According to the scientists, the robot was originally deployed to fetch a SeapHOx ocean sensor that had been logging the oxygen, acidity, temperature and salinity levels of the seawater every hour since November of 2016. Speaking about the amazing discovery, which was made near the Casey Research Station, a biologist at the Australian Antarctic Division Glenn Johnstone said:
When you think of the Antarctic coastal marine environment, the iconic species such as penguins, seals and whales usually steal the show. This footage reveals a habitat that is productive, colorful, dynamic and full of a wide variety of biodiversity, including sponges, sea spiders, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars.
These fascinating organisms survive at temperatures less than -1.5 degrees Celsius (approx. 29.3 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the year, submerged below 1.5-meter-thick (around 4.9 foot) of solid sea ice for nearly ten out of the twelve months. Despite the region’s mind-boggling biodiversity that still largely remains undiscovered, pollution and environmental degradation are wiping out many of the vulnerable species. Johnstone added:
Occasionally an iceberg may move around and wipe out an unlucky community, but mostly the sea ice provides protection from the storms that rage above, making it a relatively stable environment in which biodiversity can flourish.
This is where the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy’s Australian Antarctic Program comes in. Currently at its last leg, the project seeks to gauge the extent to which ocean acidification and carbon dioxide emissions have affected the Southern Ocean’s ecosystem. As pointed out by the researchers, over one-fourth of the total CO2 emissions are inadvertently absorbed by the ocean water, resulting in increased acidity.
As part of the project, the team deployed the camera-fitted ROV through a tiny hole drilled in the ice sheet. In addition to retrieving the SeapHOx data logger, the contraption was tasked with the collection of sediments and diatoms directly from the ocean floor, which are currently being examined at a laboratory in Tasmania. James Black, a PhD student at the Australian Antarctic Division, said:
Even small shifts in the timing of sea ice breakout can alter the composition of communities in these shallow coastal waters so we’re seeking to understand what other impacts there may be in an acidifying ocean.
Watch the following video of the magical wonderland lying beneath the frozen Antarctic Ocean:
Source: Australian Antarctic Division