New Zealand scientists have discovered a colony of small crabs of an unlisted species more than 500 meters deep under the ice of Antarctica.
It is a world even less known than the planets of the solar system and almost as difficult to access. However, it is only located a few hundred meters below our feet, or rather under the ice of Antarctica. This is where a team of scientists discovered by chance, while drilling to study the impact of global warming on an underground river, a colony of animals similar to small crabs.
“It was a huge surprise,” says oceanographer Craig Stevens. “For a few moments we thought there was something wrong with the camera. But, after checking all the settings, we clearly saw all these little 5mm long arthropods swarming around. We jumped on the spot because we immediately understood that we had discovered an unknown ecosystem of crucial importance.
So important that the team decided to interrupt their work on climate change to devote themselves entirely to this fascinating discovery: “We brought water samples back to the laboratory to examine traces of DNA and other properties of water in order to determine what makes it unique” continues Craig Stevens “because what we observed does not exist in other nearby ecosystems.” These arthropods are extremophiles, meaning animals capable of living in such harsh environments that they would be lethal to most other organisms.
For the professor of geophysical glaciology at the University of Wellington, Huw Horgan, the discovery of these life forms is comparable to “entering an unknown world”. “We left instruments on site that permanently observe this ecosystem and its environment,” he explains. This will tell us about water flow, temperature and pressure at two-minute intervals so we can get a good picture of the behavior of the river and its interactions with the ocean and the ice sheet.”