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Hidden ecosystem found under 500 metres of Antarctic ice

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Researchers found themselves "jumping up and down" after finding a hidden ecosystem deep under the Antarctic ice.

Scientists from New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) used a hot water hose to cut through about 500 metres of the Larsen Ice Shelf before they hit an underground river.

When the team lowered their cameras into the water, they were stunned to see swarms of small "amphipods", measuring about 5mm in size.

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"We were jumping up and down because having all those animals swimming around our equipment means that there's clearly an important ecosystem there, which we will do more research on," NIWA physical oceanographer Craig Stevens said.

"In a normal experiment, seeing one of these things would have you leaping up and down for joy. We were inundated."

Researchers have known for some time about a network of hidden freshwater lakes and rivers flowing underneath the Antarctic ice sheets, but these had yet to be directly surveyed.

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NIWA Antarctica

The team will leave instruments at the location to capture data in coming months and years.

Another surprise awaited the team in the form of the meltwater "tube" carrying the river itself.

"The meltwater tube wasn't nice and smooth as we expected – it had a strange structure and was quite narrow, with loads of undulations," Stevens said.

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"It looked like a loaf of bread, with a bulge at the top and narrow slope at the bottom. The water within comprised four or five different layers flowing in different directions.

"This changes our current understanding and models of these environments. We're going to have our work cut out understanding what this means for melting processes."



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