When Australian scientists deployed a camera attached to a remote operated vehicle under the sea ice at O’Brien Bay in East Antarctica, they were amazed at what they saw. The footage revealed that the sea floor is teeming with colorful undersea life.
The rich biodiversity beneath the Antarctic ice included urchins, sponges, sea cucumbers, pink algae, sea spiders, and starfish. The thriving undersea community dwell in -1.5 degrees Celsius all year round and is covered in a 1.5-metre (4.9-foot) thick sea ice for 10 months.
An occasional iceberg may wipe out the underwater community, but the sea ice gives protection from the elements, including storms that rage above, explained Glenn Johnstone, an Australian Antarctic Division biologist.
The video footage was captured while the scientists were retrieving a SeapHox pH data logger, that has been recording the acidity, oxygen, salinity and temperature of seawater since November 2016.
Deployment of the remote operated vehicle was made by drilling a small hole in the sea ice. The ROV then gathered diatoms and sediment. The spot where this was done is situated near Casey research station in East Antarctica.
O’Brien Bay lies between Bailey and Mitchell Peninsulas on the Budd Coast. It is the fifth largest land mass on the planet.
Australian Antarctic Division PhD student James Black said that even small shifts in the timing of sea ice breakout can change the composition of communities in the shallow coastal waters. The scientists had set out to learn what other impacts there may be in an acidifying ocean.
The Iconic Species
In the Antarctic coastal marine environment, the scene-stealers have been penguins and seals, not to mention whales. Among the species of penguins that Australian scientists have observed are the Adélie penguins.
Improvements in information gathering tools have been made through the years. Now there is the Automated Penguin Monitoring System that does the automatic weighing, identification and tracking of penguins’ direction as they traipse across a weighing platform between the creatures’ breeding colony and the sea.
For identification purpose, the scientists implanted under the penguins’ skin a tiny electronic tag that activates the system as the birds walk onto the platform. The readings on how long each bird has been away foraging and how much food is given by the creature to its chick are obtained. Determining the penguins’ weight is crucial, since they offer an idea on how much fish and krill the birds are eating and giving to their chicks.