A team of scientists working for the British Antarctic Survey discover strange sea sponges living in -2°C water underneath Antarctica, in an area once thought to be uninhabitable waste area.
The creatures were discovered when the team dropped a camera down a borehole that punched down 3000 feet of ice before hitting the ocean below. The temperature reaches an incredible -2.2°C, and there's no obvious food sources down there. Despite this, the team found sea sponges attached to a boulder.
'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,' says biogeographer and lead author of the study Dr Huw Griffiths.
'Our discovery raises so many more questions than it answers, such as how did they get there? What are they eating? How long have they been there? How common are these boulders covered in life? Are these the same species as we see outside the ice shelf or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the ice shelf collapsed?'
The region that the sea sponges were considered to be one of the last regions in the world that remained unexplored as floating ice shelves create a fortress of ice that prevents easy exploration. The entire area, which is bigger than the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy combined, has been incredibly difficult to study even not accounting for the extreme weather. The drilled boreholes only mean that that areas the size of a tennis court have been explored so far.
Researchers drilled the hole to take sediment samples from the sea floor when they ricocheted off the boulder, with the spinning camera capturing the lifeforms.
'To answer our questions we will have to find a way of getting up close with these animals and their environment - and that's under 900 m (3,000 ft) of ice, 260 km (160 miles) away from the ships where our labs are,' adds Dr Griffiths.
'This means that as polar scientists we are going to have to find new and innovative ways to study them and answer all the new questions we have.'