Life teems below Antarctic ice

In a surprising discovery about where higher life can thrive, scientists for the first time found a shrimp-like creature and a jellyfish beneath a massive Antarctic ice sheet.

This video frame grab image provided by NASA

This video frame grab image provided by NASA

WASHINGTON — In a surprising discovery about where higher life can thrive, scientists for the first time found a shrimp-like creature and a jellyfish beneath a massive Antarctic ice sheet.

Six hundred feet (183 metres) below the ice where no light shines, scientists had figured nothing much more than a few microbes could exist.

That is why a team from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was surprised when they lowered a video camera to get the first long look at the underbelly of an ice sheet in Antarctica. A curious shrimp-like creature came swimming by and then parked itself on the camera’s cable. Scientists also pulled up a tentacle they believe came from a foot-long 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.”

“We were just gaga over it,” he said of the 76-millimeter orange critter starring in their two-minute video. Technically, it’s not a shrimp. It’s a Lyssianasid amphipod, which is distantly related to shrimp.

The video is likely to inspire experts to rethink what they know about life in harsh environments. And it has scientists musing that if shrimp-like creatures can frolic below 183 metres of Antarctic ice in subfreezing dark water, what about other hostile places? What about Europa, a frozen moon of Jupiter?

“They are looking at the equivalent of a drop of water in a swimming pool that you would expect nothing to be living in and they found not one animal but two,” said biologist Stacy Kim of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in California, who joined the NASA team later. “We have no idea what’s going on down there.”