Newly Discovered Wildlife Reservoir Under Antarctic Ice May Be Vaster And More Varied Than First Believed

Recently we have posted on intriguing discoveries under Antarctic ice that upend previous thinking.

The first was the discovery of the wold’s largest ice fish nesting grounds. These grounds cover 92 square miles in the forbidding Weddell Sea. That sea is located on the north coast of Antarctica. Ice fish are highly unusual for a number of reasons. They have no hemoglobin, unique among vertebrates. As a result they have large hearts. wide blood vessels, large veins and no scales. To survive they have developed proteins that act as antifreeze. They are edible with firm white flesh.

Ice fish are strange on many levels including their lack of hemoglobin and protein derived antifreeze

The second was the finding of 1 million year old DNA that may shed much light on evolution. The scientists hope to learn more about the evolution of life by studying the very ancient DNA.

The third was the finding of previously unknown pockets of vibrant life beneath the ice.

Now comes word that the fountain of life may be bigger and more diverse than believed.

According to SciTech Daily the new thinking comes from the discovery of phytoplankton blooms in unexpected places. The blooms are being found under the sea ice in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. According to NASA this is important indeed. Plankton are microscopic and slightly bigger organisms including bacteria, plants and algae. It was thought that sunlight could not reach beneath the ice. Since sunlight is critical to the growth of phyto plankton it was thought plankton could not survive under the ice. But the discovery of blooms via satellite is changing that belief. Plankton is the bottom of the food chain feeding creatures that are eaten by larger creatures. But some whales, basking sharks and whale sharks (among others) live off it too.

Cephalopods include octopi, squids and cuttlefish. Many eat plankton. n12_w1150 by BioDivLibrary is licensed under CC-PDM 1.0

The discovery of large blooms under the ice suggests the likelihood of poorly understood ecosystems such as those referenced above. The large blooms of phytoplankton may be supporting a large ecosystem.

There are other surprising fountains of life, including the life that surrounds the artificial reef created by the sinking of Titanic. Nature of course gives and takes and there is much discussion of ocean areas of low oxygen. Some areas are so low in oxygen they drive out or kill life trying to survive.

The megamouth is one of a number of filter feeding sharks that consumes plankton in copious amounts.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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