An intrepid underwater robot, under the command of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), has managed to sneak beneath Antarctica to have a nose around at the life down there. In stark contrast to the blindingly white surface world, the seafloor here is an explosion of color, filled with vibrant sponges, worms, algae and arachnid-esque starfish.
“When you think of the Antarctic coastal marine environment, the iconic species such as penguins, seals, and whales usually steal the show,” AAD biologist Glenn Johnstone said in a statement.
“This footage reveals a habitat that is productive, colorful, dynamic and full of a wide variety of biodiversity, including sponges, sea spiders, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars.”
The Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) managed to get down beneath East Antarctica by slipping through a drilled hole at the surface of the sea ice.
The marine ecosystem here bathes in waters that are often -1.5°C (29.3°F) all year round, and they are often shielded from the Sun by 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) of sea ice for 10 months in a row. This ice, apart from the occasional destructive iceberg, protects marine life from powerful storms – so it’s a deep shame that it’s beginning to fade away thanks to climate change.
What lies beneath. AusAntarctic via YouTube
Warming oceans aren’t the only threat to life under the sea, however. The increased presence of carbon dioxide within the waters increases its acidity. In many parts of the hydrosphere, particularly for those that rely on carbonaceous shells to protect them, this is proving devastating.
The oceans are actually the world’s foremost carbon sink, and this is in fact one of the reasons why the AAD expedition is taking place.
“Carbon dioxide is more soluble in cold water and polar waters are acidifying at twice the rate of tropical or temperate regions,” project leader Johnny Stark added. “So we expect these ecosystems to be among the first impacted from ocean acidification.”
So take a good look at this rather glorious video of Antarctica’s marine life, ladies and gentlemen. If we don’t cut down our greenhouse gas emissions, the scene in a few decades time is likely to be far more barren and lifeless.