An amazing secret world of crustaceans has been discovered by scientists living deep below Antarctica.
The hidden underwater eco-system was found accidentally – a few miles off the Ross Ice Shelf – when researchers from a university in New Zealand drilled 500m below the surface of the ice as they went exploring one of the many rivers that lay beneath the vast continent.
As they watched on their cameras, the water came alive with lots of tiny specks darting this way and that.
At first the scientists, from Te Herenga Wake – Victoria University of Wellington, thought their equipment was malfunctioning, but then realised they were watching a swam of arthropods – shrimp-like creatures – much to their delight.
“For a while, we thought something was wrong with the camera, but when the focus improved, we noticed a swarm of arthropods around 5mm in size,” revealed Professor Craig Stevens, a Physical Oceanographer with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
“We’ve done experiments in other parts of the ice shelf and thought we had a handle on things, but this time big surprises were thrown up.”
This was the first time this particular environment has been able to be explored due to how difficult it is to access the area.
“Getting to observe and sample this river was like being the first to enter a hidden world,” added Professor Stevens.
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“What is interesting is where their food is coming from and why their presence was so variable over the 10 days we observed.
“We were jumping up and down because having all those animals swimming around our equipment means that there’s clearly an important ecosystem there.”
The scientists think there could be a vast network of lakes and rivers beneath Antarctica and research continues to try and find out more about this hidden world.
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