An old, cold ecosystem

Published: Monday 15 August 2005

A vast ecosystem recently discovered below Antarctica's floating ice shelves could offer a completely new understanding of the origin of life in extreme environments. The sunless habitat was found beneath the collapsed Larsen Ice Shelf in northwestern Weddell Sea. "This is definitely the biggest thing I've ever been involved with in the Antarctic...Seeing these organisms on the ocean bottom -- it's like lifting the carpet off the floor and finding a layer that you never knew was there," says Eugene Domack, a professor at Hamilton College, New York, USA, the lead author of the report on the ecosystem.

The report is due for publication in the July 19, 2005, issue of Eos, the American Geophysical Union's weekly newspaper. Domack says there is a strong possibility that the ecosystem's discovery will lead to the discovery of new species of marine life in future. Unlike photosynthesis-driven ecosystems or those supported by hot emissions from the Earth's crust, the new ecosystem, also called 'cold-seep' or 'cold-vent' community ecosystem, is fed by chemical energy from within the planet. Some such cold-vent regions have also been discovered earlier, in California, the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Japan.

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