The discovery was "total serendipity," said Frank Rack, executive director of the ANDRILL Science Management Office at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "When we looked up at the bottom of the ice shelf, there they were."
Scientists had lowered the robot--a 4.5-foot cylinder equipped with two cameras, a side-mounted lateral camera and a forward-looking camera with a fish-eye lens--into a hole bored through the 270-meter-thick shelf of ice that extends over 600 miles northward from the grounding zone of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet into the Ross Sea.
Their research mission, funded by NSF with support from the New Zealand Foundation for Research, was to learn more about the ocean currents beneath the ice shelf to provide environmental data for modeling the behavior of the ANDRILL drill string (a length of pipe extending through the water column and into the sea floor through which drilling fluids are circulated and core samples are retrieved), Rack said. They didn't expect to discover any organisms living in the ice, and surely not an entirely new species.
Rack, who is U.S. principal investigator for the environmental surveys that were conducted as part of the international ANDRILL Coulman High project, had left the site via helicopter just prior to the discovery. He was listening by radio when he heard the report from the robot deployment team, composed of engineers Bob Zook, Paul Mahecek and Dustin Carroll, who began shouting as they saw the anemones, which appeared to glow in the camera's light.
"People were literally jumping up and down with excitement," Rack said. "They had found a whole new ecosystem that no one had ever seen before."
"What started out as an engineering test of the remotely operated vehicle during its first deployment through a thick ice shelf turned int
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