Life Under the Antarctic Ice Shelf

Life Under the Antarctic Ice Shelf
Map of Antarctica showing the ice shelves

One of the amazing things about our planet is its ability to support life. We find a diversity of living things on land, in the air, and under the oceans. Scientists have even found a variety of life under the Antarctic Ice Shelf.

Gerhard Kuhn and Raphael Gromig of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute, a polar and marine research organization, drilled through the Antarctic ice shelf. After boring through 656 feet (200 m) of ice, they scooped up material from the seafloor another 328 feet (100 m) down. What they brought up surprised them. They turned the material over to David Barnes, a marine biologist with the British Antarctic Survey. He was so amazed that he said, “Is this a practical joke?”

Barnes was surprised that as he studied the sediment, he identified 77 different species of animal life in the material they extracted from a single drill hole. The species identified included bryozoans, which are stationary filter feeders, and tube-feeding worms. Barnes said, “This discovery of so much life living in these extreme conditions is a complete surprise…”

Filter-feeders feed on algae which require sunlight to grow. However, there is no sunlight to provide photosynthetic life under the Antarctic ice shelf. The explanation is that these creatures are feasting on microorganisms that the ocean currents sweep under the ice shelf. You could say the food is delivered to their doorstep.

Despite the cold and dark conditions, life survives in a location where fires, storms, or predators do not threaten it. The only thing that may threaten these creatures is the melting and breakup of the ice shelves. So, here in one of Earth’s least-known habitats, life survives. Like the scientists who discovered and studied these life forms, we are amazed. But, more than that, we thank God for wisely creating life with the ability to adapt and survive even in hostile environments.

— Roland Earnst © 2022

References: Current Biology and