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Trending Science: What’s hiding in the icy water beneath a massive Antarctic iceberg? We’ll soon find out

Scientists are setting sail for Antarctica to explore a mysterious marine ecosystem that’s been covered by an iceberg for more than 100 000 years.

Climate Change and Environment icon Climate Change and Environment

Led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), a team of scientists is embarking on an unprecedented expedition to one of the most remote and pristine places on the planet – Antarctica. Their mission is to investigate a mysterious marine ecosystem that’s been hidden beneath an iceberg that calved off from the Larsen Ice Shelf in July 2017. More than twice the size of Luxembourg or four times the size of London, the trillion-tonne iceberg (known as A-68) is now drifting – exposing the seabed that scientists believe has not been free of ice for 120 000 years. Marine biologist Dr Katrin Linse, who is leading the three-week mission, is eager to take a rare peek at the unseen creatures living beneath the ice. ‘It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonise,’ said Dr Linse in a statement. ‘We’ve put together a team with a wide range of scientific skills so that we can collect as much information as possible in a short time. It’s very exciting.’ The scientists will travel by ship to collect samples from the newly exposed seabed, which covers an area of around 5 818 km2. ‘We are going into an area where we don’t know what we are going to find,’ said Dr Linse, quoted by BBC Radio 4. ‘I expect to find animals similar to those we find in the extreme deep sea: animals that are not used to feeding on green food because there was no phytoplankton in the water because there was no daylight. We had hundreds of metres of ice above the area and now it has broken off. ‘ Dr Linse explained the area still had many mysteries to explore, ‘Most expeditions we go out on, we find new species.’ Using video cameras, a special sledge and other equipment, the scientists plan to collect seafloor animals, microbes, plankton, sediments and water samples. They will also record any marine mammals and birds that might have moved into the area. According to a BAS press release, their findings will shed light on what life under the ice shelf was like so that changes to the ecosystem can be tracked. ‘The calving of A-68 offers a new and unprecedented opportunity to establish an interdisciplinary scientific research programme in this climate sensitive region,’ explained Dr Linse. ‘Now is the time to address fundamental questions about the sustainability of polar continental shelves under climate change.’ The international team is scheduled to leave Stanley in the Falkland Islands on 21 February 2018 and will spend three weeks in February-March 2018 on board the BAS research ship RRS James Clark Ross. The team includes scientists from nine research institutes: University of Aberdeen, University of Newcastle, Natural History Museum, University of Southampton, Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, Senckenberg Research Institute and Museum in Germany, University of Gothenburg in Sweden, University of Ghent in Belgium and Museums Victoria in Australia. ‘We need to be bold on this one,’ concluded Dr Linse. ‘Larsen C is a long way south and there’s lots of sea ice in the area, but this is important science, so we will try our best to get the team where they need to be.’


Australia, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom

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