Ancient Animal Remains Discovered Deep In Antarctic Ice

Scientists have successfully found very small, long-deceased animals drilling into Antarctica’s sub-glacial Lake Mercer — including “water bears,” as well as small crustaceans.

Douglas Fox reporting for Nature News & Comment shared how one of the recent discovery is one of many projects that is being led by the Subglacial Antarctica Lakes Scientific Access, or SALSA, expedition.

Image via NASA

According to the Subglacial Antartica Lakes Scientific Access‘s website, the campaign involves 50 scientists, drillers as well as support staff who are looking to uncover the secrets of this “scarcely studied environment.”

The most important part of the discovery is what it means for Antarctic organisms’ ability to be versatile.

Researches, as Maria Temming writes for Science News, had originally believed that subglacial lakes were only capable of hosting simple life forms.

In a neighboring body of water just south of Lake Mercer, a 2013 sampling of Lake Whillans supported this theory.

David Harwood, SALSA team member as well as University of Nebraska-Lincoln micro-paleontologist, said the find was “fully unexpected.”

Image via NASA

But when the scientists looked further into what Lake Mercer held, the results were far more different.

“[We found] some things that looked like squished spiders and crustacean-type things with legs, … [plus] some other things that looked like they could be worms,” Harwood shared with Temming.

SALSA researches used a pencil-sized drilling nozzle that sprayed heated water to reach the depths of Lake Mercer.

And upon reaching their desired level, the team was able to retrieve samples with the help of a corer tool.

Aylin Woodward from Business Insider shared that the group was at first very surprised to see so many tiny crustaceans as well as tardigrade — which is an eight-legged invertebrate that is capable of surviving in extreme conditions — hiding in the cores.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

At first, the team thought the samples had been contaminated by uncleaned equipment, so they launched a second drilling expedition.

But they were amazed when it produced the same results.

The specimens that were recovered appear to be land-dwellers rather than lake or ocean creatures, according to Nature News & Comment’s notes. A glaciologist, Slawek Tulaczyk, at the University of California, Santa Cruz, explained how it is possible that the carcasses traveled from the mountains to the lake via subglacial rivers of by clinging to the bottom of an advancing glacier.

Fox adds that either 10,000 or 120,000 years ago, the Transantartic Mountains went through a short warm spell that discovered the region’s characteristics glaciers receding — which allowed pockets of animal life to blossom in ponds as well as stream before succumbing to the return of frigid conditions.

And as ice overtook the mountain range, a large number of these creatures ended up trapped in the buried lake — where their remains later came to rest below the surface.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

The next step?

Narrowing the timeline down.

A researcher at Brigham Young University says that it is most likely that the organisms from the lake did not die long ago — more like thousands of years as opposed to millions.

And it is also possible that scientists will be able to analyze them using radiocarbon dating which would prove that they are less than 40,000 years old.

The team hopes to use its discovery to get a better picture of the regional ecosystem.

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