After using hot water to stun the creatures, the team used an improvised suction device to retrieve them from their burrows. They were then transported to McMurdo Station for preservation and further study.
Because the team wasn't hunting for biological specimens, they were not equipped with the proper supplies to preserve them for DNA/RNA analyses, Rack said. The anemones were placed in ethanol at the drilling site and some were later preserved in formalin at McMurdo Station.
Many mysteries remain. Though some sea anemones burrow into sand with tentacles or by expanding and deflating the base of their bodies, those strategies don't seem feasible for ice. It is also unclear how they survive without freezing and how they reproduce. There is no evidence of what they eat, although they likely feed on plankton in the water flowing beneath the ice shelf, Daly said.
Rack said a proposal is being prepared for further study of this unusual environment using a robot to explore deeper in the ocean and further from the access hole through the ice. NASA is helping finance the development of the new underwater robot because the Antarctic discoveries have implications for the possibility of life that may exist on Europa, the ice-covered moon of Jupiter.
He said researchers hope to return to Antarctica as early as 2015 to continue studying the sea anemones and other organisms beneath the ice shelf.
|Contact: Frank Rack|
University of Nebraska-Lincoln