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Antarctic seafloor exposed after 50 years of ice cover

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Summary | 9 Annotations
German scientists have inspected an area of seafloor newly exposed by the calving of mega-iceberg A74 and found it to be teeming with animals.
2021/03/17 14:17
Research groups frequently try to probe waters below freshly calved ice shelves, to better understand how these unique ecosystems operate. But success is not easily won.
2021/03/17 14:17
But Polarstern, run by the Alfred Wegener Institute, got lucky. It was already in the eastern Weddell Sea on a pre-planned expedition when city-sized A74 split from the Brunt.And when the weather calmed last weekend, the ship slipped in behind the berg to take a look at an area of seafloor that is now free of ice cover for the first time in five decades.
2021/03/17 14:17
Over five hours, the system collected almost 1,000 high-resolution images and long sequences of video."Despite the years of continuous ice coverage, a developed and diverse seafloor community was observed," said OFOBS team-members Dr Autun Purser and Dr Frank Wenzhoefer.
2021/03/17 14:17
"In the images, numerous sessile animals can be seen attached to various small stones scattered liberally across the soft seafloor. "The majority of these are filter-feeding organisms, presumably subsisting on fine material transported under the ice over these last decades. "Some mobile fauna, such as holothurians, ophiuroids, various molluscs, as well as at least five species of fish and two species of octopus were also observed."
2021/03/17 14:17
Dr Huw Griffiths from the British Antarctic Survey was thrilled to see the pictures sent back from the Polarstern."What they have found isn't shocking but it is amazing to get these images so soon after a calving event and it is definitely the largest area that will have been surveyed in this way," he commented. "Finding this kind of community this far under the ice shelf is not surprising but it is a good indication that there is a rich supply of food reaching at least 30km under the ice shelf. "This food is produced by plankton in the sunlit sea surface nearby, then dragged under the ice shelf by the currents of the Weddell Sea. These same currents will eventually move the iceberg westward around the Weddell Sea and then northwards to its doom," he told BBC News.
2021/03/17 14:17
The Weddell Sea's eastern side is interesting because it has not witnessed the warming effects that have been observed in its western sector, next to the Antarctic Peninsula.This situation may not last, however, with computer models suggesting there could be regular incursions of warm ocean water from the north by the century's end.
2021/03/17 14:18
A74 broke away from the Brunt Ice Shelf, which is the floating protrusion of glaciers that have flowed off the land into the Weddell Sea. On a map, the Weddell Sea is that sector of Antarctica directly to the south of the Atlantic Ocean. The Brunt is on the eastern side of the sea. Like all ice shelves, it will periodically calve icebergs. A big berg last calved from this particular area in 1971.
2021/03/17 14:18
Satellite measurement puts it at around 1,290 sq km (500 sq miles). Greater London is roughly 1,500 sq km; the Welsh county of Monmouthshire is about 1,300 sq km. That's big by any measure, although not as large as the monster A68 berg which calved in July 2017 from the Larsen C Ice Shelf on the western side of the Weddell Sea. That was originally some 5,800 sq km but has since shattered into many small pieces.
2021/03/17 14:18