Sea Spider Spaghetti & Other Antarctic Curiosities
I’ve been following the Larsen C Benthos expedition with great excitement… and some disappointment… then excitement once more. The team, led by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey, aboard the RRS James Clark Ross, were en route to study the benthic (sea floor) communities beneath the Larsen C ice shelf, which calved a massive iceberg back in July last year. What would they find living on the seafloor in this newly exposed, never-before-seen area?
Alas, with 400 km still to go, their approach was thwarted by sea ice up to 4 or 5 meters thick, and they made the difficult decision to turn to plan B. They have been sampling creatures from the sea floor, microbes, plankton, water, and sediment in the Prince Gustav Channel. The Prince Gustav Channel Ice Shelf and nearby Larsen A Ice Shelf collapsed in 1995.
They’ve seen some fascinating lifeforms on the Antarctic sea floor:
…including a “dabbing” starfish.
They’ve also seen some incredible scenery.
Meanwhile, on the Danger Islands, off the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, a supercolony of 1.5 million Adélie penguins has been visited by scientists. The colony was first discovered by a team of ecologists (led by Heather Lynch of Stony Brook University) using an algorithm to search images from NASA’s Landsat satellite. What did it find? White penguin guano, which stood out against the dark rock of the Danger Islands.
This is great news for this species. Warmer waters have caused a severe reduction in krill populations. This decline in the Adélie’s main food source, coupled with a reduction in sea ice used for resting and safe haven from predators, has caused a sharp decline in Adélie penguin numbers.
On that note, let’s take a look at the current state of our vital polar sea ice.
Arctic sea ice is at a record low—unsurprising considering the record-breaking temperatures the Arctic has been experiencing.
Antarctic sea ice is at its second lowest extent on record.
Aliens in Antarctica?
You may have seen screaming clickbait headlines such as UFO ‘crashes into Antarctica’ leaving trail of destruction referring to this interesting image seen on Google Earth, presented as “proof” by alien hunters of a crashed spaceship.
Everyone Loves Penguins
Judging by the number of friends who’ve excitedly sent me messages about the Penguin Selfie video, you’ve probably already seen this. But it’s lovely. So, enjoy it once more!
*Astute readers will note that this post covers two weeks, not one. It takes considerable time for me to research, compile relevant information, and write these posts, and my working/teaching schedule this semester makes it challenging to do a weekly post, alas. I’ll soon be offering perks for supporters via my Patreon page.
As always, I am not a scientist but a writer/illustrator and science communicator passionately in love with sea ice, ice shelves, and polar ice in general. I welcome input and corrections from and connections with polar scientists as I learn more about this remarkable and vital part of our planet and bring this knowledge to a wider audience.