After the massive iceberg calved off the Antarctic continent in July last year, it revealed a mysterious marine world beneath it. The exposed marine ecosystem, though recently discovered, was tucked in beneath the ice shelf for more than 100,000 years. Now, scientists want to embark on a journey to explore the mysterious marine world beneath the Antarctic and get to know more about it.
The massive iceberg was dubbed A-68 and last year it calved from Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf. This event occurred on July 12, when one of the largest icebergs ever recorded plopped into the ocean. It weighs roughly a trillion tons and had a surface area of 2,240 square miles before calving.
It has been drifting away for months now, while breaking into smaller and smaller pieces. This iceberg existed above the seafloor for thousands of years. However, now that it’s gone, researchers are able to explore and learn about the mysterious marine world beneath it.
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“The calving of A-68 provides us with a unique opportunity [to] study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change,” Katrin Linse, marine biologist for the survey who’s leading the three-week mission, said in a statement. “It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonize.”
It is no secret that exploring and studying the marine world beneath ice shelves comes with many risks and is expensive in the process. There was another expedition recently which launched underwater drones in order to study and collect data under ice shelves. However, the calving of A-68 “offers a new and unprecedented opportunity to establish an interdisciplinary scientific research program in this climate sensitive region,” David Vaughan, science director of the survey, said in a statement.
Researchers will board the RRS James Clark Ross from the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina by February 21. The exploration will last three weeks while they gather data. They are thrilled to explore the mysterious marine life beneath the Antarctic now that the calved A-68 iceberg has revealed it. They will sample once-hidden marine life including seafloor animals, microbes and plankton.
Scientists will also gather tiny marine creatures from the floor, as well as sediments and water samples. Video cameras which will be set up along the seafloor which will record those tiny marine creatures, along with the ecosystem changes, meaning that it will observe any new marine mammals or birds that could move to that area.
According to NASA, Larsen C is the fourth largest ice sheet in the world. While many things happening in Antarctica, including calving or melting of the ice, is attributed to climate changes, calving of this particular iceberg likely occurred naturally, according to the scientists. Also, now that the A-68 iceberg is gone, the area of the Larsen C ice shelf has shrunk by 10%.
“We need to be bold on this one,” Vaughan said in a statement. “Larsen C is a long way south and there’s lots of sea ice in the area, but this is important science so we will try our best to get the team where they need to be.”