'Lost Antarctic World' Unknown to Science Discovered
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January 03, 2012

'Lost Antarctic World' Unknown to Science Discovered

              Antarctic-undersea-volcanoes-saunders-110712-02

Communities of species previously unknown to science have been discovered on the seafloor near Antarctica, clustered in the hot, dark environment surrounding hydrothermal vents. 

"Hydrothermal vents are home to animals found nowhere else on the planet that get their energy not from the Sun but from breaking down chemicals, such as hydrogen sulphide," said Professor Alex Rogers of Oxford University's Department of Zoology, who led the research. "The first survey of these particular vents, in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, has revealed a hot, dark, 'lost world' in which whole communities of previously unknown marine organisms thrive."

In the "hadal" zone, which at 11,000 meters is deeper than Mount Everest is high – the pressure rises to 1,000 bar, or a ton per square centimeter. And as there is practically no light, and plants cannot grow, there is little food. It offers a glimpse of what life on Jupiter's moon, Europa, might look like.

For the first time, researchers led by the University of Oxford, University of Southampton and British Antarctic Survey, used a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to explore the East Scotia Ridge deep beneath the Southern Ocean, where hydrothermal vents, including 'black smokers' reaching temperatures of up to 382 degrees Celsius, create a unique environment that lacks sunlight, but is rich in certain chemicals. 

In April 2011 Professor Rogers was part of an international panel of marine scientists who gathered at Somerville College, Oxford to consider the latest research on the world's oceans. A preliminary report from the panel in June warned that the world's oceans are at risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.

6a00d8341bf7f753ef0147e19eae07970b-500wiHighlights from the ROV dives include images showing huge colonies of the new species of yeti crab, thought to dominate the Antarctic vent ecosystem, clustered around vent chimneys. Elsewhere the ROV spotted numbers of an undescribed predatory sea-star with seven arms crawling across fields of stalked barnacles. It also found an unidentified pale octopus, nearly 2,400 metres down, on the seafloor.

"What we didn't find is almost as surprising as what we did," said Professor Rogers. "Many animals such as tubeworms, vent mussels, vent crabs, and vent shrimps, found in hydrothermal vents in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, simply weren't there."

The team believe that the differences between the groups of animals found around the Antarctic vents and those found around vents elsewhere suggest that the Southern Ocean may act as a barrier to some vent animals. The unique species of the East Scotia Ridge also suggest that, globally, vent ecosystems may be much more diverse, and their interactions more complex, than previously thought.

"These findings are yet more evidence of the precious diversity to be found throughout the world's oceans," said Professor Rogers.

The team reports its findings in this week's issue of the online, open-access journal PLoS Biology.

Image at top of page shows a string of a dozen volcanoes, at least several of them active, that have been found beneath the frigid seas near Antarctica, the first such discovery in that region. Some of the peaks tower nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above the ocean floor — nearly tall enough to break the water's surface.

The Daily Galaxy via Public Library of Science

Image Credit: British Antarctic Survey

Comments

I am in awe that life can survive in such extreme conditions and that communities of animals thrive. Really a very informative and interesting piece of news. Thanks for letting us know about some of the most breathtaking new findings in fields related to astronomy, cosmology, and space exploration. You might want to include a link to the article you mentioned. It seems like the January 2012 issue of PLOS Biology (Public Library of Science -Biology has more than one article about findings around these undersea vents. Here's the link to the article you mentioned.
http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001234

Frank,

To someone from another planet, Earth is a hostile environment.

Oscar:

How do you know that? Hostility is a relative measure. Without knowing what live is like on the alien planet there is no way of telling what life on Earth is like relative to the alien planet.

Howdy very nice blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Superb .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds additionally…I'm glad to search out a lot of helpful information right here in the post, we want work out more strategies on this regard, thank you for sharing. . . . . .

this is awesome! i swear science is progressing at an exponential rate. these amazing discoveries and breakthroughs seem to happen more and more often now

I really wonder if and how the mass extinctions on the surface of the planet affected these isolated deep sea environments. Organisms that died off everywhere else might still live in some of these places. Good article.

WHAT IS THE BIG BLACKED-out area in the top photo? I did enjoy the article.

It shows how little we know about the world we live on. It is amazing how the planet compensates for our mistakes as well as those that are natural to the maintenance of planetary health. It isn't always the biggest and strongest that survive but those most capable of adaptation; witness the dinosaurs - no PETA or ALF or ELF around to weep copious tears over the destruction of species due to the volcanic eruptions and the major tectonic shifts; or to wreak stupidity in the name of justice. Our hubris has lead us to the point of almost no return. There is still time to change. It starts with each of us and yes that includes you too Mr. & Mrs. 1%. You're part of the problem because you insist on poisoning the planet so you can maximize profit to the last cent. Why not release all the technology you've been keeping from us since at least 1932? Don't you have enough already? Perhaps only species genocide will satisfy you but I think you will find even that is not enough and you will forfeit your true self; your spiritual self in the end. No Lucifer or Jesus Christ; no twelfth Imam or Buddha to save you. Not even re-manifestation will be available to you. By the way; people might think this is the end all and be all in this third dimensional world we are currently manifested on; but it is merely one level in the omniversal dimensional continuum. Will anyone be around to deride or mourn our passing just as there was no one to mourn the dinosaurs? The planet will change to meet its needs. We need it but it doesn't need us.

All I know is that at those latitudes is very cold .


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