A jumbo surprise under Antarctic ice

The shrimplike creature video-taped by NASA scientists. The shrimplike creature video-taped by NASA scientists.
Associated Press / March 16, 2010

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WASHINGTON — In a surprising discovery about where higher life can thrive, scientists found a shrimplike creature and a jellyfish frolicking beneath an Antarctic ice sheet.

Six hundred feet below the ice where no light shines, they had figured nothing much more than a few microbes could exist. That’s why a NASA team was surprised when it lowered a video camera to get the first long look at the underbelly of the ice sheet in Antarctica, and a 3-inch shrimp-like creature went 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 scientist Robert Bindschadler, who will present the initial findings and a video at an American Geophysical Union meeting tomorrow.

The video is likely to inspire scientists to rethink what they know about life in harsh environments. And it has them wondering whether life exists in other hostile places on earth and in places like Europa, a frozen moon of Jupiter.

Microbiologist Cynan Ellis-Evans of the British Antarctic Survey called the finding intriguing, noting somewhat similar results in retreating ice shelves, but nothing directly under the ice.

He said it’s possible the creatures swam in from far away and don’t live there.