Captain Kirk said that space is the final frontier. But scientists studying marine life throughout a newly revealed portion of the Antarctic sea floor, which had been buried under solid ice for the last five millennia before global warming kicked in, beg to differ.
The collapse of two ice shelves on the eastern shore of Antarctica has exposed a Jamaica-sized section of sea floor teeming with thousands of species of marine life, including 30 believed to be completely new to science.
Fifty-two scientists representing 14 nations returned last month after cataloging 1,000 species during a 10-week voyage covering 10,000 miles of ocean floor aboard the German icebreaker vessel Polarstar (PDF).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“This is virgin geography,” said Gauthier Chapelle, outreach officer for the expedition and biologist at the Brussels-based International Polar Foundation, in a statement. “If we don’t find out what this area is like now following the collapse of the ice shelf, and what species are there, we won’t have any basis to know in 20 years’ time what has changed, and how global warming has altered the marine ecosystem.”
And what global warming giveth, global warming will eventually taketh away. Scientists are surprised by the accelerated rate at which organisms flocked to the area, but gradually increasing water temperatures are already affecting algae populations — the foundation of the food chain.