March 15, 2010
When a NASA team
lowered a video camera
to get the first long
look at the underbelly of an ice sheet,
they found a
curious shrimp-like creature.
WASHINGTON - In a surprising discovery
about where higher life can thrive, scientists for the first time
found a shrimp-like creature and a jellyfish frolicking beneath a
massive Antarctic ice sheet.
Six hundred feet below the ice where no light shines, scientists had
figured nothing much more than a few microbes could exist.
That is why a team from the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration was surprised when they lowered a video camera to get
the first long look at the underbelly of an ice sheet in Antarctica.
A curious shrimp-like creature came swimming by and then parked
itself on the camera's cable.
Scientists also pulled up a tentacle
they believe came from a foot-long jellyfish.
"We were operating on the
presumption that nothing's there," said NASA ice scientist
Robert Bindschadler, who will be presenting the initial findings
and a video at an American Geophysical Union meeting Wednesday.
"It was a shrimp you'd enjoy having on your plate."
"We were just gaga over it," he said of the 3-inch-long, orange
critter starring in their two-minute video.
Technically, it's not a shrimp. It's a
Lyssianasid-amphipod, which is distantly related to shrimp.
Census of Marine Life plumbs the depths of the ocean,
and has recently turned up a variety of outlandish deep-sea life.
Stunning images of the astonishingly rich and unusual variety of
life in Antarctica's waters, from the British Antarctic Survey.
The video is likely to inspire experts to rethink what they know
about life in harsh environments.
And it has scientists musing that
if shrimp-like creatures can frolic below 600 feet (183 meters) of
Antarctic ice in subfreezing dark water,
"They are looking at the equivalent
of a drop of water in a swimming pool that you would expect
nothing to be living in and they found not one animal but two,"
said biologist Stacy Kim of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
in California, who joined the NASA team later. "We have no idea
what's going on down there."
Microbiologist Cynan Ellis-Evans of the
British Antarctic Survey called the finding intriguing.
"This is a first for the sub-glacial
environment with that level of sophistication," Ellis-Evans
He said there have been findings
somewhat similar, showing complex life in retreating ice shelves,
but nothing quite directly under the ice like this.
Ellis-Evans said it is possible the creatures swam in from far away
and do not live there permanently.
But Kim, who is a co-author of the study, doubts it. The site in
West Antarctica is at least 12 miles from open seas. Bindschadler
drilled an 8-inch-wide hole and was looking at a tiny amount of
water. That means it's unlikely that that two critters swam from
great distances and were captured randomly in that small of an area,
Yet scientists were puzzled at what the food source would be for
these critters. While some microbes can make their own food out of
chemicals in the ocean, complex life like the amphipod can't, Kim
So how do they survive? That's the key question, Kim said.
"It's pretty amazing when you find a
huge puzzle like that on a planet where we thought we know
everything," Kim said.
Stunning images of
the astonishingly rich and unusual variety of life
waters, from the British Antarctic Survey.