In the so-called "sudden discovery," scientists in Antarctica have discovered a small, preserved ancient carcass that has been stored for thousands of years in a lake buried under more than 3,500 feet of ice.
The discovery of dead crustaceans and tardigrades, also known as "water bears" or "pig moss", was made by a team of US researchers on a mission to drill Lake Mercer Subglacial, located almost 400 miles from the South Pole, according to Natural.
Finding tiny primitive animals there is "totally unexpected," said David Harwood, a micro paleontologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who was part of the expedition, known as the SALSA (Subglacial Antarctic Lakes Scientific Access).
After spending days breaking through thick chunks of ice, the SALSA team sent instruments to a drill hole on December 28 to capture rare lake recordings, distribute science instruments, and collect samples. After six days of sampling, the researchers said they had enough "material to really change the way we looked at the Antarctic continent," in the SALSA blog post.
The researchers say at least some animals from Lake Mercer are landlubbers. Eight-legged tardigrades resemble species known to inhabit wetlands Natural.
These creatures are believed to have inhabited ponds and streams in the Transantarctic Mountains, about 31 miles from Lake Mercer, during a brief warm period where glaciers receded – both in the last 10,000 years, or 120,000 years ago. Later, when the climate cools, ice covers the oasis of this animal's life.
"It's really cool," said Slawek Tulaczyk, a glaciologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who is not part of the SALSA team. "This is really shocking." Tulaczyk, who has been studying sediments taken from under glacier ice since the 1990s, said Natural nothing like that has ever been found before under the ice sheet.
The Mercer Subglacial Lake Mercer was discovered more than a decade ago through satellite images but has never been explored until now. This is one of 400 lakes under Antarctic ice, and experts say every life there can increase hopes of finding similar organisms deep in Mars or in ice-covered months on Jupiter and Saturn.
Scientists are now hoping to sort the DNA of the creatures found, to find out more about when, and how far, Antarctic glaciers back thousands of years ago. Sorting the remnants of DNA from carcasses, mud and lake water can also help determine whether crustaceans include marine or freshwater species.
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