Scientists discover 12-armed sea-star

26th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

26 February 2007, Hamburg (dpa) - Scientists have returned from icy seas near the South Pole with pictures of rare seabed animals that have been breeding for millennia in watery darkness under vast sheets of ice. The expedition, aboard the German polar research vessel 1,000 Polarstern, collected about 1,000 species, several of which may prove new to science. Among the starfish and sea stars, creatures which usually have five arms, they were startled to find one with 12. The creatures found on the eastern s

26 February 2007

Hamburg (dpa) - Scientists have returned from icy seas near the South Pole with pictures of rare seabed animals that have been breeding for millennia in watery darkness under vast sheets of ice.

The expedition, aboard the German polar research vessel 1,000 Polarstern, collected about 1,000 species, several of which may prove new to science. Among the starfish and sea stars, creatures which usually have five arms, they were startled to find one with 12.

The creatures found on the eastern shore of the Antarctic Peninsula, where floating ice shelves up to 220 metres thick which are normally firmly attached to the land have broken free in the past 12 years.

The collapse of the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves has been seen as a worrying sign of climate change, but has also opened up to view a pristine world below, described by the scientists as a last frontier on Earth.

"The ocean floor had been sealed off from above for at least 5,000 years," said the chief scientist, Julian Gutt. Though they found just 1 per cent of the marine life abundance typical of the neighbouring Antarctic seafloor, the species were more typical of the ocean deeps.

In the relatively shallow waters of the Larsen zone, scientists were intrigued to find abundant deep sea lilies and their relatives, sea cucumbers and sea urchins. These species are more commonly found around 2,000 metres where food is similarly scarce.

When Antarctic glaciers reach the coast of the continent, they begin to float and become ice shelves, from which icebergs calve.

Since 1974, a total of 13,500 square kilometres of ice shelves off the Antarctic Peninsula have disintegrated, a phenomenon linked to regional temperature increases in the past 50 years.

With the "lid" gone, new life forms were moving in.

"At around 200 metres' depth we discovered a mosaic of life in different stages of re-colonization," Gutt said at the Wegener Institute in the German port of Bremerhaven.

DPA

Subject: German news

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