Those Tiny Ice Wedges in Antarctica Have an Important Role to Play in Understanding Global Warming


We think nothing surprises us anymore until we find another life form truly unique and different from the last discovery, and living in places where any life form is not expected to exist. Here’s another one. This is not the ghost fish from the deepest part of Marianas trench or that monster looking shark recently caught in Australia. This one is a translucent fish found in one of the tiny ice wedges in Antarctica.

What is an ice wedge anyway? It’s a crack on the ground, surrounded by a thin sheet of ice 4 to 5 meters at ground level and tapers as it go downwards.

Scientists were trying to get an excellent view of where the ocean, the ground and the ice are supposed to meet using a robotic camera. The probe was plunged in a deep narrow excavation into the Ross Ice Shelf. This is a part of their job on Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD), a project under the auspices of Northern Illinois University.

They were located 500 miles ashore and 1.5 miles below the surface when scientists found the tiny translucent fish surviving in very small enclosure of sea water, completely surrounded by ice.

“I’m surprised,” Ross Powell, a glacial geologist from Northern Illinois University who helped lead the expedition, told Scientific American. “I’ve worked in this area for my whole career. You get the picture of these areas having very little food, being desolate, not supporting much life.”

“These pockets of ocean life, secluded deep below the ice sheets that jut out from Antarctica, are ripe for further exploration”, researchers say, “as is much of the deep sea.

“While it was just one fish at first, slowly encroaching upon the strange light that had made its way down to their icy layer, several more appeared in the days following the initial discovery — 20 to 30 in all”, researchers say.

“It was clear they were a community living there,” Powell said, “not just a chance encounter.”

Understanding how it works between the glacial shelf, the sediments and the ocean currents is crucial in understanding the outcome of global warning.

“I have spent my scientific career studying how this ice sheet may contribute to future global sea level rise, Slawek Tulaczyk, a chief scientist on the WISSARD project explained in a recent press release.  “However, I now realize that retreat of the ice sheet may also impact a unique ecosystem.”



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