NASA Finds Shrimp Where No Advanced Life Should Be: 600 Feet Beneath Antarctic Ice

By Andrew Moseman | March 16, 2010 8:31 am

There’s a lot more going on beneath those huge sheets of Antarctic ice than you might think. NASA researchers say they uncovered a major surprise in December: The team drilled an eight-inch hole and stuck a video camera 600 feet down, hoping to observe the underbelly of the thick ice sheet. To their amazement, a curious critter swam into view and clung to the video camera’s cable [Washington Post]. The three-inch crustacean in their video (and pictured in the image here) is a Lyssianasid amphipod, a relative of a shrimp. The team also retrieved what they believe to be a tentacle from a jellyfish.

“We were operating on the presumption that nothing’s there,” said NASA ice scientist Robert Bindschadler, who will be presenting the initial findings and a video at an American Geophysical Union meeting Wednesday. “It was a shrimp you’d enjoy having on your plate” [AP]. Indeed, researchers previously believed that nothing more complex than microbes could live in such a hostile place, beneath an ice sheet in total darkness. While complex organisms have shown up before in retreating glaciers, this seems to be the first time any have been found 600 feet down below an intact sheet of ice.

The sheer unlikeliness of the find (what would these creatures eat, after all?) cast doubt in the minds of some scientists that this is the organisms’ true habitat. The site is connected to the open sea, says Cynan Ellis-Evans of the British Antarctic Survey. But given the distance to that open sea—12 miles–study coauthor Stacy Kim says it’s highly unlikely such small creatures made such a journey under an ice sheet. In addition, the hole NASA drilled measured only eight inches across. That means it’s unlikely that that two critters swam from great distances and were captured randomly in that small of an area, she said [AP].

If crustaceans really can tough it out buried beneath the ice, perhaps complex organisms can live in more places than we give them credit for. Astrobiology enthusiasts are probably already thinking of the ice-covered moons in our solar system, like the Jovian moon Europa and the Saturnian moon Enceladus, and wondering whether extraterrestrial critters could be lurking beneath those frozen surfaces. First, though, there’s a lot left to sort out about this intriguing puzzle.

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Image: NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Evan Harper

    “…to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no shrimp has gone before.

  • SonnBunz

    I don’t know why scientists are so puzzled by this. This is the same exact story about the shrimp that were discovered thriving under water by hydrothermal vents that can reach up to 750°F. We’re trying to come up with ways to find out if creatures live on the ice moons of my balls, but we have no idea what the hell is under our own two feet.

  • http://www.petty.me.uk Matt P

    I’m looking forward to the video camera on the Europa probe going down through the ice, and the live video feed being cut off as a huge mouth appears, and bites…

  • Brian Too

    Doesn’t this also have a lot in common with cave critters who never enter, nor leave, and have lost their eyesight because they never use it?

  • hungry

    Do they try and eat these animals ? Just to see how it tastes…

  • nico_forgot

    i’m glad to see nasa spending our money on things that have a greater chance of relativity to current human existence. they spend too much looking for stuff that doesn’t matter when people are starving, aye?

    that said they’ll use this as justification to study all manner of crazy extraterrestrial bodies because if we found it here who knows what could be out there?

  • scribbler

    Evan, that was good…
    ;-)

  • From Northern Norway

    This is not a sensation.
    Norwegians scientists has been studying this amphipoda in about 30 years.
    In Norway we call then “tangloppe”, try to search on Google.
    Normally they are small, between 2 – 60 mm and they are common in the Arctic and Antarctic. Some deep sea species may be up to 30 cm long. ;-) )

  • http://Prottoyrh Prottoy rh

    that said they’ll use this as justification to study all manner of crazy extraterrestrial bodies because if we found it here who knows what could be out there?

  • http://Prottoyrh Prottoy rh

    I’m looking forward to the video camera on the Europa probe going down through the ice, and the live video feed being cut off as a huge mouth appears, and bites…

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    Poor little doomed shrimp, or people…

  • http://www.energyimprovements.net Ed Graves Radiant Barrier

    This was a cool article to read! I enjoyed it a lot… Though I do agree with Prottoy about waiting for the actual footage!

  • Richard Adlam

    Hmm, NASA , is that the space administration org?
    What are they doing drilling holes in the Antarctic?
    Thought they were going into outer space, not inner space..
    Can’t they access data produced by other org’s that do Geological exploration and keep their $$’s for new shuttle tech?
    Perhaps there is a need for an org that draws all the data produced by different agencies and collates it for any cross over projects?

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