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Discovering an ecosystem beneath a collapsed Antarctic ice shelf

e the energy source capable of sustaining the chemical life at the observed 850-meter [approximately 2800-foot] depth.

Such extreme cold-vent regions have previously been found near Monterey, California, where the phenomenon was discovered in 1984, in the Gulf of Mexico, and deep within the Sea of Japan. The recent report, however, presents the first finding of the type in the Antarctic, where the near-freezing water temperatures and almost completely uncharted territory will likely provide a baseline for researchers to probe portions of the ocean floor that have been undisturbed for nearly 10,000 years. The researchers speculate, for example, that the ice shelves themselves may have played a critical role in allowing the chemical habitat to thrive on the seafloor when it otherwise might not have established itself.

Domack noted, however, that the calving of the Larsen B Shelf has opened the pristine chemical-based ecosystem to disturbances and debris that have already begun to bury the delicate mats and mollusks established within the underwater environment. He added that there may be a sense of urgency to investigate the unusual seafloor ecology below the Larsen shelf because of the likelihood of increased sediment deposition.

In addition, he suggests that the newfound system may provide incentive to launch studies to other remote undersea environments in the poles and in other glacial settings such as Lake Vostok, also in the Antarctic, to further explore the little-understood connection where ice sheets, the seafloor, and circulating water meet. The researchers indicate that the knowledge gained from any subsequent studies could enhance the examination of subterranean water on Earth or the hypothesized ocean beneath the surface on the Jovian moon Europa.


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Source:American Geophysical Union


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