Antarctic ice shelves' collapse unveils exotic ecosystem
www.chinaview.cn 2007-02-26 13:55:09

The collapse of two mammoth ice shelves in Antarctica has given scientists a unique chance to witness an exquisite seabed ecosystem formerly hidden by ice, scientists said in a press release on Sunday.

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    BEIJING, Feb. 26 (Xinhuanet) -- The collapse of two mammoth ice shelves in Antarctica has given scientists a unique chance to witness an exquisite seabed ecosystem formerly hidden by ice, scientists said in a press release on Sunday.

    The exotic creatures include spindly orange sea stars, fan-finned ice fish and herds of roving sea cucumbers.

    This is the first time explorers have been able to catalog wildlife where two ice shelves used to extend for some 10,000 square kilometers over the Weddell Sea. Before the collapse, researchers could only peer through holes drilled deep into the ice.

    The insight into Antarctica's hidden marine world came from the breakup of the Larsen A and B ice shelves, 12 and five years ago respectively, that later formed huge icebergs.

    The team of 52 scientists from 14 countries collected around 1,000 species, some of which are believed to be new to science, and took what they describe as "brilliant" images of unfamiliar creatures.

    "The breakup of these ice shelves opened up huge, near pristine portions of the ocean floor, sealed off from above for at least 5,000 years, and possibly up to 12,000 years in the case of Larsen B," said Julian Gutt, the expedition's chief scientist.

    Looking down deep into the icy water, the researchers found fauna usually associated with seabeds about three times that deep, in places where the creatures must adapt to scarcity to survive.

    There were blue ice fish, with dorsal fins like ribbed fans and blood that lacks red cells, an adaptation that makes the blood more fluid and easier to pump through the animal's body, conserving energy at low temperatures.

    Long-limbed sea stars, some with more than the usual five appendages, mingled with the ice fish, and groups of sea cucumbers were observed moving together, all in one direction.

    These specimens will be analyzed to determine whether they in fact are newly discovered species.

    At present, international databases have recorded 5,957 forms of marine life, but as many as 11,000 more remain to be discovered.

    (Agencies)

Editor: Wang Yan
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