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article imageThe Antarctic's upside-down anemones puzzle scientists

By Karen Graham     Jan 22, 2014 in Science
The colorful sea anemone is named for the terrestrial flower of the same name. An invertebrate, they are a close relative of coral and jellyfish. More than 1,000 species are found throughout the world's oceans, though mainly in tropical waters.
While the anemone can be found at various depths in our oceans, they are almost always seen attached to rocky protuberances and as part of coral reefs. Their colors are extraordinary and varied. But imagine the surprise geologists on the Antarctic's Ross ice shelf felt when they quite by chance discovered anemones living in this inhospitable environment.
Members of a team working with the Antarctic Geological Drilling (ANDRILL) Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln were surveying the underside of the Ross ice shelf during the Antarctic's spring and summer season, which lasted from October 2010 to February 2011.
The purpose of the survey was to get samples of the sea floor under the Ross ice shelf as well as test out a remotely operated vehicle camera. After drilling down 250 to 270 meters through the ice using a hot-water drill, the robot reached liquid water and started sending back pictures. But the water was looking murky. Bringing the rig up and about for a closer look, the team of geologists and engineers discovered anemones sticking to the underside of the ice.
ANDRILL team sets up at McMurdo Station.
ANDRILL team sets up at McMurdo Station.
ANtarctic geological DRILLing
The team had not expected to find anything living under the ice, especially anemones. They also didn't have anything with them to bring up a specimen, so they improvised, using a Braun coffee filter, some tubing and a piece off the robotic machine. Pictures and samples of the creatures were sent to Associate professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State University, Marymegan Daly, who specializes in sea anemones.
The team found thousands and thousands of the creatures, some as small as 2.0 cm. and able to extend their tentacles to about 7.0 cm. while feeding on the small particles in the fast-flowing water. The brilliant, white anemone, a new species, has been given the name Edwarsiella andrillae in honour of the ANDRILL program.
The team's findings were reported in the journal PLoS ONE, in December 2013. Since that time, Daly has received emails from other researchers who have been on Antarctic expeditions and have also seen "what they thought were anemones."
But scientists are perplexed and have yet to figure out how the invertebrates are able to survive in such harsh conditions. One researcher said that if you took one of the anemones and placed it in ice in a freezer, it would die.
According to a press release, NASA is also interested in the finding because the discovery could add to their investigation of the possibility of life under the ice of Jupiter's moon, Europa.
More about Sea anemones, Antarctica, Ross ice shelf, New species, Invertebrates
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