National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, while using a camera-equipped robot to survey the area under Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf, unexpectedly discovered a new species of small sea anemones that were burrowed into the ice, their tentacles protruding into frigid water like flowers from a ceiling.
"The pictures blew my mind, it was really an amazing find," said Marymegan Daly, a specialist in sea anemones at Ohio State University, who studied the specimens retrieved by scientists and engineers with the NSF-funded Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program's Coulman High project.
The team made the astonishing discovery of thousands upon thousands of the small anemones.
The new species, discovered in late December 2010, was publicly identified for the first time in an article published last month in PLOS ONE, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal published by the Public Library of Science.
Though other sea anemones have been found in Antarctica, the newly discovered species is the first reported to live in ice. They also live upside down, hanging from the ice, compared to other sea anemones that live on or in the seafloor.
The white anemones have been named Edwardsiella andrillae, in honor of the ANDRILL Program.
Scott Borg, who heads the Antarctic Sciences Section in NSF's Division of Polar Programs, noted that the discovery indicates how much remains both unknown and unexplored by scientists, even after more than 50 years of active U.S. research on the Southernmost continent
"It is an absolutely astonishing discovery--and just how the sea anemones create and maintain burrows in the bottom of the ice shelf, while that surface is actively melting, remains an intriguing mystery," he said. "This goes to show how much more we have to learn about the Antarctic and how life there has adapted."
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