Researchers exploring Antarctica’s seabed have discovered a thriving, unprecedented colony of icefish “about a third of the size of London”.
The surprise discovery of about 60 million active nests was made by a team of biologists while collecting routine data at 1.5-2.5 metres above the seafloor of Antarctica’s southern Weddell Sea. Before this discovery, the largest found colony contained only 60 nests.
“We expected to see the normal Antarctic seafloor … [but] during the first four hours of our dive, we saw nothing but fish nests,” said Autun Purser, of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, and lead author of the study published in Current Biology.
The ecosystem was found by accident using the ocean floor observation and bathymetry system, a large, towed camera device that records photos, videos and takes measurements of deep-sea habitats.
Researchers were initially interested in the area because of a process called upwelling, in which wind and currents bring cold water to the surface, causing the water to be 2C warmer than the surrounding area.