Monday, June 11, 2007

A trip to Antarctica reveals some completely new life under the ice

The icebreaker Polarstern arrived in Antarctica last December packed with 52 scientists and a remotely operated submersible called Cherokee. The mission: to survey the ocean life under the former Larsen B ice shelf, the 720-billion-ton mass of ice that disintegrated in 2002. After 17 dives as deep as 2,800 feet by Cherokee, the scientists had observed approximately 1,000 marine species, many of them recent arrivals to the newly uncovered ecosystem and some completely new to science. "The only species that were able to make a living under that much ice were those typically found in the deep sea," says Terry Collins of the Census of Antarctic Marine Life. "They're still there, but you can see the signs of colonizing species as well." The trip was the first of 14 Antarctic voyages aiming to document how climate change is affecting the poles.

By Kalee Thompson