At a depth of 600 feet beneath the West Antarctic ice sheet, a small shrimp-like creature managed to brighten up an otherwise gray polar day in November 2009. Bob Bindschadler of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and his team were on a joint NASA-National Science Foundation expedition to examine the underside of the ice sheet when they found the pinkish-orange creature swimming beneath the ice.
"We were like little kids huddling around, just oohing and aahing at this
little creature swimming around and giving us a little show," says
Bindschadler. "It was the thrill of discovery that made us giddy; just
The complex critter was identified as a Lyssianasid amphipod, about 3
inches in length. It was found beneath the 590-foot-thick Ross
Ice Shelf in Windless Bight, 20 miles northeast of McMurdo
Station. Bindschadler and his team drilled an 8-inch-diameter hole through the
ice so that Alberto Behar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.,
could submerge a small camera to obtain what are believed to be the first
images of the underbelly of an ice shelf.
"This is the first time we've had a camera able to look
back up at the ice. This probe is an upgrade to the original. It has three
cameras – down, side and back-looking. The back-looking camera saw the
shrimp-like animal," says Behar. The drilling in Windless Bight was part
of the team's preparation for upcoming field studies 1,000 miles from McMurdo
where the Pine Island ice shelf is rapidly thinning,
and Antarctic ice is swiftly sliding off the continent, raising sea level.
Bindschadler and his team want to find out why.
Behar designed the original NASA borehole camera apparatus in 1999. It's now
seen six deployments with British, Australian and American science teams in
Antarctica, Greenland and Alaska.
He'll take this new camera rig to Pine
Island with Bindschadler and others,
and hopes to eventually probe into Antarctica's
mysterious sub-glacial lakes. There he'll attach a fiber-optically tethered
micro-submarine with high-resolution camera, "so we can swim within the
often is found in extreme environments. "The ocean flows under ice sheets,
and where there is exchange of water with the open ocean, there will be microbes
and other food resources for larger animals such as jellyfish and
amphipods," according to Peter Wiebe, a biologist from the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass., who studies marine life in the
waters around West Antarctica.
But for a group of glaciologists, a familiar face was
the last thing they expected to see below the ice and so far from the open
ocean. "We thought we were just going into a deep, dark cold water hole
and never anticipated we'd see any life," Bindshadler adds. "The
color was what caught our eyes."
Ice Borehole Yields a Surprising Find
March 30, 2010