German researchers have discovered marine life along the Antarctic seafloor for the first time in decades after a huge iceberg broke off the continent’s ice sheet last month.
The iceberg, named A-74, broke loose about two weeks ago and began drifting through the Weddell Sea.
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As the only nearby research ship, the Polarstern research icebreaker took the opportunity to explore, penetrating the gap between the A-74 and the Brunt ice shelf.
His team consisted of scientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), the Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) and other international partners, according to a press release Wednesday.
“Once-in-a-lifetime” photographs captured by the crew revealed a “staggering level of biodiversity and sediment samples taken from the seabed are expected to provide more detailed information about the ecosystem.”
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In addition, the geochemical analysis of the collected water samples will allow conclusions to be drawn about their nutrient content and ocean currents.
Video images and an extensive collection of photos taken using the OFOBS (Ocean Floor Bathymetry and Observation System) exposed life deep below the surface and numerous organisms surrounded by a silty landscape.
Most of those creatures were filter feeders, though experts also found sea cucumbers, starfish, mollusks, at least five species of fish, and two species of squid.
Hundreds of marine species live in Antarctic waters, but, as LiveScience reported on Friday, the presence of stationary filter feeders that eat phytoplankton, which rely on sunlight for photosynthesis, meters under the ice was surprising.
AWI noted in the statement that the research was essential to better understand calving events and that it is rare to be near a region that becomes ice-free and in contact with sunlight, especially for icebergs as large as A-74. .
The team also placed research buoys in the area to collect data on water temperature, salinity, and speeds of ocean currents.
It’s a move they believe will help scientists create more accurate climate models for the region as Antarctica continues to lose ice mass at an alarming rate.
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“This data forms the basis for our simulations of how the ice sheet will respond to climate change. As a result, we can say with a greater degree of certainty how fast sea level will rise in the future, and provide the political community and society in general with solid data to make decisions about the necessary measures of adaptation to climate change, “said physical oceanographer and head of the AWI expedition, Dr. Hartmut Hellmer.