Exploring Mysterious Antarctic Marine Life
21 May 2007

Scientists have discovered hundreds of new marine animals in the deep-sea surrounding Antarctica. The specimens include carnivorous sponges, free-swimming worms, crustaceans, and mollusks, living in the Weddell Sea. They provide new insights into the evolution of life in the ocean.

 

Reporting in the Nature, scientists demonstrate how creatures in the deeper parts of the Southern Ocean –the source for much of the deep water in the world ocean– are likely to be related to animals living in both the nearby shallower waters and in other deep regions.

 

It is crucial for scientists to know whether shallow water species colonized the deep ocean or vice-versa. The research findings suggest the cyclical advance and retreat of ice led to an intermingling of species that inhabited shallow and deep waters.

 

“The Antarctic deep sea is potentially the cradle of life of the global marine species," said Professor Angelika Brandt (University of Hamburg), principal author of the paper.  "Our research results challenge suggestions that the deep sea diversity in the Southern Ocean is poor. We now have a better understanding in the evolution of the marine species and how they can adapt to changes in climate and environments.”

 

 “What was once thought to be a featureless abyss is in fact a dynamic, variable and biologically rich environment," said Dr. Katrin Linse, British Antarctic Survey (BAS). "Finding this extraordinary treasure trove of marine life is our first step to understanding the complex relationships between the deep ocean and distribution of marine life.”

 

The ANDEEP (Antarctic benthic deep-sea biodiversity) project is carrying out the first comprehensive study of marine animals in the Antarctic deep sea.

 

As part of ANDEEP, three research expeditions, onboard the German research ship Polarstern (Pole Star), were launched between 2002 and 2005. Scientists from 14 research organizations investigated the seafloor landscape, its continental slope rise and changing water depths to explore this fascinating region of the ocean. They discovered over 700 new species.

 

Further Reading

BAS Press Release

http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/News_and_Information/Press_Releases/story.php?id=304

Aymen Mohamed Ibrahem

Senior Astronomy Specialist

   
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