Ice drilling nets shrimpy surprise

Underwater camera captures an Antarctic crustacean

BALTIMORE — In the frigid waters around Antarctica, below the floating ice shelves where all is dark, lives a most unlikely creature: a perky little shrimp-like crustacean.

SHRIMPY SURPRISE A crustacean known as a Lyssianasid amphipod (orange blob at center) startled scientists who were peering at this camera feed from an underwater hole drilled through the Antarctic ice. NASA

Scientists spotted the animal, known as an amphipod, frolicking in a hole drilled through the ice in late 2009. They had come to Windless Bight, not far from Antarctica’s McMurdo Station, to test drilling equipment for a future study of ice shelves. But biology turned out to be a bonus.

“Everybody was just gaga over this amphipod,” says team leader Robert Bindschadler, a polar scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “He put on quite a show,” swimming around and nestling up against the cable carrying the underwater camera.

“There’s a lot of life even in places you wouldn’t think of any,” Bindschadler told a conference on Antarctic subglacial lakes on March 17.

Two years from now, he and his colleagues plan to use their drilling equipment to study the Pine Island glacier in West Antarctica, which dumps more ice into the ocean than any other. They will be carrying the camera.

This video feed comes from a camera looking upward from the bottom of a hole that has just been drilled through the ice using a jet of warm water; the jet creates a scalloped pattern as it swirls downward. 

Credit: NASA

Alexandra Witze is a contributing correspondent for Science News. Based in Boulder, Colo., Witze specializes in earth, planetary and astronomical sciences.

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