A never-before-seen ecosystem lurks in an underground river deep below Antarctica’s icy surface: Researchers have brought this “hidden world” to light in a new study, revealing a dark, jagged cavern filled with swarms of tiny, dragon-like creatures. shrimp.
A group of scientists from the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in Auckland, New Zealand, discovered an unknown ecosystem under the ice of the Larsen platform, in Antarctica, more than 500 meters deep. After noticing the existence of a river under the icy layer, the researchers used a powerful hot water hose to pierce the ice and reach a kind of underground chamber.
An explosion of life under the ice
According to an article published in Live Science and a report by NIWA, specialists were surprised when, lowering a camera into the underground passageway, they saw a large number of tiny shrimp-like creatures crowd against the light. In this way, they quickly verified that the river and the cave housed a hidden ecosystemalmost a “new world” under the thick frozen surface.
Seeing that the area was invaded by these tiny crustaceans, known as amphipods, scientists had to leave behind all their assumptions, because they did not expect to find any kind of life so far from the surface. The finding is in line with other similar research, which indicates that Antarctica has a biological wealth that has not yet been identified under the enormous ice cap that forms part of its surface.
According to the research leader, the scientist Herenga Waka, in 2020 the first signs of the structure were detected, when observing a satellite photo of the area. A long depression or groove, stretching across the ice, was a hallmark of an underground river. However, a first more detailed analysis did not yield positive results. Subsequently, the observation of a clear slope convinced the researchers, who thus confirmed the presence of the underground river.
A unique environment that requires a new look
When they penetrated the river with the camera, they verified that the cavern was very different from what was previously thought: the ceiling was very irregular and had pronounced undulations. At the same time, it was much wider at the top and became noticeably narrower on the way down. The researchers also unexpectedly discovered that the underground water column it divided into four or five different layers of water, flowing in opposite directions.
This phenomenon, never before noticed, changes our current understanding and the models related to these living environments under the ice. Now, specialists will have to work to find out what mechanisms come into play and support the logic of this strange “underground world”, which could be just one example of many more to be discovered in the future.
Scientists will continue to study the newly discovered subterranean ecosystem and hope to learn more about how nutrients are recycled and distributed, through the underground water networks of Antarctica, to sustain the abundance of life that has been seen in these spaces. At the same time, the researchers believe that these types of hidden ecosystems may also be at risk from the effects of global warming and climate change.