Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hairy Crabs and Pale Octopuses: Antarctic Vents Reveal New Marine Species by Mark Brown

                                              Unidentified pale octopus on the Antarctic seafloor.

A lost world of animal life has been discovered on the Antarctic sea floor, after an aquatic robot found various new species clustered around hydrothermal vents.

These vents are fissures in the Earth's surface, which spew out water rich in chemicals and heated to boiling temperatures by the interior of the planet. Hydrothermal vents are home to animals found nowhere else because they get energy by breaking down those chemicals, instead of from the Sun.

Researchers led by the universities of Oxford and Southampton, the National Oceanography Center, and British Antarctic Survey have been able to explore the East Scotia Ridge deep beneath the Southern Ocean, for the first time, with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV).

They found black smokers -- a type of vent that can reach temperatures up to 382 degrees Celsius and spits out chemicals like hydrogen sulphide. Here the team found "a hot, dark, lost world," said research leader Alex Rogers of Oxford University's Department of Zoology, "in which whole communities of previously unknown marine organisms thrive."

Around these vents they found various new species. They discovered an undescribed predatory seastar with seven arms, which crawls across fields of stalked barnacles. Nearly 2,400 metres down on the seafloor they found an unidentified octopus that's so pale it's almost completely colorless.

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