Antarctic Iceberg Discovery Reveals Hidden Ancient 'Alien' Ecosystem That's 120,000 Years Old
The race is on. Scientists are rushing to Antarctica as part of what's been described as an "urgent" mission to study new forms of life which are being uncovered thanks to a dramatic shift in the local environment.
The A68 calved off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf back in July leaving 5,818 sq km of prime ecological real estate that's currently inhabited by an ecosystem that's approximately 120,000 years old. These undiscovered 'alien' creatures are weird and wonderful and have been buried under ice for so long that scientists have never before had the opportunity to study them up close.
A team of scientists, led by @BAS_News, heads to Antarctica this week to investigate a mysterious marine ecosystem that's been hidden beneath an Antarctic ice shelf for up to 120,000 years. #LarsenCBenthos #OceanOptimism #OurBluePlanet— Huw Griffiths (@griffiths_huw) February 12, 2018
There's just one big problem. Because this icy society has been uncovered by a split in Antarctic ice, it's only a matter of time before the local ecosystem changes dramatically based on its new environment. If they move quickly, scientists have the opportunity to watch this change take place, but if they get to the party late, they'll be left trying to guess what things looked like back when all of these exotic sea creatures were still buried under Antarctic ice.
According to Dr. Katrin Linse of the British Antarctic Survey:
It's not yet clear exactly what will be discovered by analyzing these creatures up close, but considering the fact that they've never interacted with humans before, we're probably going to get a good look at species that seem entirely alien.
It's possible that this research could help us in future when we investigate icy planets and moons which could contain alien life—if we're able to learn how these creatures have adapted to their frosty surroundings, we'll be in a better position to spot similar signs when visiting Jupiter's moon of Titan, or Saturn's Europa.
Did you miss Dr. Katrin Linse speaking about the upcoming BAS-led expedition to newly exposed #Antarctica ecosystem on @BBCr4today this morning? Catch up here: https://t.co/zpyl7QHE3a #LarsenCBenthos #LarsenC #A68 #Antarctica pic.twitter.com/jSN3beNYTf— Antarctic Survey (@BAS_News) February 12, 2018
In the meantime, though, this research will hopefully provide us with information that's far more relevant to the fate of our own planet.
The A68 calved off from Antarctica because of rising temperatures in the region, so as these scientists study how these changes in the environment are affecting local wildlife, we'll get a better understanding of the effects that our consumption of fossil fuels will have on the world as a whole, including (and especially) polar regions with their unique, bizarre ecosystems.
Perhaps before we start trying too hard to spot alien life forms on foreign worlds, we ought to spend a little more time considering the species of life on our own planet that are in need of conservation.
They're no less freaky-looking, but they are in a far more immediate need of our protection.