Researchers were surprised to find fish, crustaceans and jellyfish after drilling 2,500 feet down through the ice.
The team sent a submersible camera down into one of the world’s most extreme ecosystems, located some 530 miles from open water beneath the Ross Ice Shelf. Glaciologist Salwek Tulaczyk of the University of California, Santa Cruz said that it “is the closest we can get to something like Europa,” one of Jupiter’s icy moons.
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The scientists are the first to drill through an ice shelf to find its grounding line, which marks the transitionof the thick tongues of ice from land to sea. The team are part of the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project, and managed to penetrate the ice with a specially made hot-water drill on January 8.
They are using the same equipment which was used to reach a subglacial lake called Lake Whillans back in 2013, when scientists uncovered evidence of microbial life for the first time. This time around the larger forms of life were discovered on January 16.
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The translucent pink fish measured around 8 inches in length, and their discovery here marks the furthest south that they have been found. Living alongside them are amphipods, a hardy form of crustacean often found in inhospitable oceans.
Scientists were surprised to come across the fish, but it soon became clear that it wasn’t just a chance encounter. Over the next few days 20-30 fish were observed by the camera, curiously approaching the strange object which had entered their desolate habitat.
Tulaczyk remarked that the seabed did not support any form of life, possibly due to the constant falling of rocks which melt out of the ice sheet. These rocks can be tiny particles of dust, or truck-sized boulders. “Forms of life that are sedentary will be stoned to death,” he said. “The only things that can successfully explore food resources are things that can swim.”