What Is Under the Former Larsen Ice Shelf?

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Elpidia glacialis. Credit: Julian Gutt/Alfred Wegener Institute

Unless you live in a hole you know that the Larsen Ice Shelf collapsed a few years ago. A current expedition on the Polarstern to Antarctica is investigating marine ecosystems under the former Larsen ice shelf.

This “white spot” with regard to biodiversity research gave rise to the following questions: What kind of life actually existed under the former floating ice shelf which was up to several hundreds of meters thick? What are the prospects for the future after the collapse of the ice shelf?

Compared to the surrounding Antarctic seafloor, the area under the former 300m thick ice shelf probably did no possess a wealth of life. Researchers now finding a thriving community dominated by echinoderms, sea cucumbers (holothurians) and stalked feather stars (crinoids).The dominant sea cumcumber is typically found deeper (800m) than the depth of this area (200m).

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.