What Is Under the Former Larsen Ice Shelf?


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).