A team of scientists using a hot-water drill and underwater robotic vehicles have broken through the Antarctic ice shelf into a ‘lost world’ never directly sampled by scientists before.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln team found huge numbers of fish and other creatures living in the freezing darkness in the ‘grounding zone’ where the ice shelf meets the sea floor.
It’s the first time scientists have ever explored this strange, alien world.
‘This season we accessed another critical polar environment, which has never been directly sampled by scientists before: the grounding zone of the Antarctic ice sheet,’ said Slawek Tulaczyk, a glaciologist from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
The team had to work against the clock after piercing the ice to gather samples while the borehole remained open.
A camera-equipped robot vehicle explored the dark, ‘brutally cold’ water - and the scientitsts hope its findings may help them to understand how creatures can survive in the ‘grounding zone.’
It was the first mission for Deep-SCINI, a robot designed specifically to work thousands of feet beneath the sea.
‘This is the first time that Deep-SCINI ROV has been used in the field and it passed this test with flying colors," Rack said, ‘Collecting video of fish living under the ice shelf in this extremely hostile environment.’
Preliminary findings offer interesting clues about how climate change might affect Antarctic ice.
Ross Powell, a glaciologist from Northern Illinois University pointed to a layer of pebbles strewn on the bottom of the seawater cavity.
They appear to have dropped from the ice as it melted and indicate a fairly recent change in the environment.
They might help measure how fast the ice is melting and the stability of the ice shelf.
A weakening or collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf would allow glaciers to flow more rapidly into the ocean, raising global sea level.