Researchers have found that there could be something up to 5 million square kilometers under the icy surface of Antarctica .
Previously, scientists believed that algae in Antarctica appear only in summer, since the thick layer of dense ice on the continent prevents the penetration of sunlight.
However, a new study by a team from Brown University in the US and the University of New Zealand in Auckland has shown that part of it may be permanently below the surface of the continent, reports Newsweek.
According to study leader Christopher Horvath, “The discovery of plants helps to challenge the paradigm that regions under sea ice are devoid of life and raises important new questions about the food webs that may be under the ice in Antarctica. We think they could cover up to 5 million square kilometers of subglacial area in the Southern Ocean.”
Similar conclusions were drawn by a team of researchers using data collected from NASA’s Earth observation satellites, as well as from floats placed in the ocean.
The sea ice of the Southern Ocean consists of layers of dense ice with small patches of water between them. Scientists believe that these patches of water allow light to pass through even during the winter months, allowing algae to photosynthesize year-round.
The ice itself is also thin enough to allow some light to pass through – it is typically between 1 and 3 meters thick, explained marine biogeographer Hugh Griffiths of the British Antarctic Survey. However, life has been found even on the seafloor, where there is no light at all.