8000 ft under Antarctic sea – A lost world



8000 ft under Antarctic sea – A lost world London: British scientists have discovered what they claim is a "lost world" of unknown species nearly 8,000 feet deep on the sea floor off the coast of Antarctica -- kept alive by undersea volcanoes.

A team from Oxford and Southampton universities and the British Antarctic Survey says it was exploring off the coast of Antarctica and found colonies of marine life, including crabs, an octopus and starfish totally new to science, living in the murky depths.

The reason their existence is remarkable is that they were found on top of undersea volcanoes called hydrothermal vents, which pump out plumes of black smoke causing temperatures to rise to 380C -- hot enough to melt lead.

With no sunshine there, they live in complete darkness but the creatures get their energy from breaking down highly toxic chemicals found in the smoke, the 'Daily Mail' reported.

The most numerous of the two dozen new species found is a type of "yeti crab" around 16cm long, which was piled in huge heaps of up to 600 animals near the vents. Unlike other crabs it has a dense mat of hair on its chest which it is thought to use to grow bacteria to eat.

The team also discovered an unknown type of octopus they believe is a new species -- although they were unable to catch it -- and a seven-armed starfish, and barnacles, clusters of snails and sea anemones.

They were detected using a Remotely Operated Vehicle the size of a minibus, of the type used in oil exploration, but customised with a fleet of cameras and equipment to take water and chemical samples.

Prof Alex Rogers, of the University of Oxford, who led the team said: "We found whole communities of organisms, never found before on the planet, thriving in these vents.

"In just eight weeks and it has really changed a lot of what we know about deep sea life in this hostile environment.

There are undoubtedly more creatures to find once we have analysed the results of this trip.

"Hydrothermal vents are very hard to find, but they have changed scientists whole understanding of the origins of life and may hold the key to where else in the solar system it may exist."

The findings have been published in the 'PLoS Biology' journal.

PTI