It is pitch dark, and the temperatures are at subzero, but when scientists drilled through the Antarctic ice shelf, they found a seafloor boulder that became the home to several species that mysteriously live far from light or warmth.
They noted that there had been a few organisms that they have found to believing beneath Antarctica. Still, it is the first time they discovered stationary creatures that live their lives attached to one place, such as sponges, that have been discovered in this hostile and dark environment.
“This discovery is one of those fortunate accidents that pushes ideas in a different direction and shows us that Antarctic marine life is incredibly special and amazingly adapted to a frozen world,” said Huw Griffiths, a biogeographer of the British Antarctic Survey.
The researchers published the full details of their discovery in Frontiers in Marine Science.
Rethinking Life After the Antarctic Find
The accidental discovery of the life forms 3,000 feet (900 meters) beneath the Antarctic ice shelf had scientists rethink what limits life on Earth.
The researchers were digging a hole through the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf on the south-eastern Weddell Sea to obtain a sediment core from the seabed when they happen to discover the life-bearing rock.
It was a serendipitous event as they found something else aside from what they intended to find.
The researchers could not obtain the core due to the life-bearing boulder, but the video camera sent down the hole captured the first images of organisms stuck to a rock far beneath the ice shelf.
Dr. Griffiths said that although they failed to fulfill their initial mission, never in a million years would they have thought to find this kind of life form, believing that it does not exist.
Moreover, the news outlet reported that previous surveys in Antarctica had found various small mobile organisms, like fish, jellyfish, worms, and krill.
Scientists believe that no stationary organism would live down there due to the total darkness and lack of food source, plus the -2 degrees Celsius temperature, making the environment hostile for any life form. This is the first time that they have found stationary filter-feeders beneath the Antarctic ice shelf.
How Did They Survive the Hostile Environment
Most of the plants on Earth require the Sun to make their food in the process called photosynthesis. But the dark depths of the Antarctic waters have no sunlight to make food, so living organisms have to find another strategy.
Instead of photosynthesis, organisms in dark depths of water rely on chemosynthesis to make sugars that form the food chain based on that on land.
It seems the organisms living on the boulder that Griffiths and his team found are likely relying on some form of a chemosynthetic food chain, even though sponges are the carnivorous kind.
But a further study on the organisms and their environment is needed to confirm this theory, although that might be extremely challenging.