New Species Discovered in Antarctica?

Planning on travelling to another continent as a vacation? Why not book a flight to Antarctica? Antarctica may have long winters and short day-light hours but new species are still being discovered till this day. Thousands of scientists travel during the summer hoping to make astonishing discoveries and get a better understanding of this bitter-cold and isolated world.

A recent discovery has been made on fishes living beneath Antarctica by drilling holes through the ice and feeding a camera through it. These are not your ordinary fishes but rather a worm-like fish that live beneath a 740 m thick ice. Ross Powell, who led the team to this project, mentions that it is incredible how these species have managed to thrive with little to no sunlight and be isolated from rest of the world. These cameras usually pick up lifeless mud environment with at most microbe activities. However, the discovery of these fishes has definitely intrigued many scientists.

Fish found below Antarctica ice Credit: Reed Scherer (NIU)

Fish found below Antarctica ice Credit: Reed Scherer (NIU) Source: Scientific American

Furthermore, even though there are a few species thriving in Antarctica, how were their ancestors able to survive for thousands of years?  An international team has discovered that steam and heat from the volcanoes have helped many species to survive in ice ages. In addition, a team lead by Ceridwen Frazer has collected data for many decades and pinpointed a common trend. His team found that there were more species living near the volcanoes compared to other places. Frazer explains that these large volcanoes melted large ice caves that are warmer than outside. This has allowed species to survive during cold ice ages.

Antartica Credit: Vincent Van Zeijst Source: Wikimedia Commons

Antarctica Credit: Vincent Van Zeijst Source: Wikimedia Commons

Moreover, the environment of Antarctica has sustained life for thousands of years. However, there is a growing concern of large volumes of ice melting causing a rise in sea level and destroying ecosystems. Scientists are using computer software to run simulations of possible outcomes in the next few years. For example, they looked in East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin. Currently a thick rim of ice at the coast is holding this basin in place. If this rim of ice were to melt, the basin can cause a rise of 300-400 cm in sea level.

Credit: Newsy Science from Youtube

Lastly, action has been taken to prevent the destruction of Antarctica due to global warming. Changes in sea level have devastated the food web by flooding its environment.  Commission for the Conservation of Antarctica Marine Living Resources’ (CCAMLR) are making an effort to protect waters around Antarctica.

Taking a step back, Antarctica has provided homes to many species. Scientists are still discovering new species in little to no sunlight areas.  Now there is a growing concern with sea level rise due to melting ice sheets, and we must do our research to find ways to prevent this deep concern. If you love the cold, then make sure to stop by Antarctica on your next flight.

-Manpreet Takhi

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