“Stars hung suspended” — robot camera finds ice-dwelling anemones

A robot camera in the Antarctic Ocean found something that no one was looking for: bloodless sea anemones anchored to the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf. The researchers, from the University of Nebraska, dropped their camera-robot through the 270-metre-thick ice to explore sea currents and test their machine. The team did not include any biologists but they preserved some of the tiny animals for later study. These are the first anemones found that live in or on ice: ANDRILL team discovers ice-loving sea anemones in Antarctica. They are only a couple of centimetres high.

“The white anemones have been named Edwardsiella andrillae, in honor of the ANDRILL program.” I guess we’ll have to look at PLoS One to discover why they were placed in Edwardsiella so quickly. (the anemones, not the bacteria): Edwardsiella andrillae, a New Species of Sea Anemone from Antarctic Ice.

The large-scale image of the discovery is stunning.

Ice-dwelling anemones

Octopus had Antarctic ancestors

Genetic analysis of octopodes indicates that they developed in the ocean around Antarctica. They spread out from that continent when an ice sheet covered it and created cold water currents in all directions to the north.

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) – Many octopuses evolved from a common ancestor that lived off Antarctica more than 30 million years ago, according to a “Census of Marine Life” that is seeking to map the oceans from microbes to whales.

The $650 million census is on track for completion in 2010, assessing about 230,000 known marine species, a statement said. It has identified 5,300 likely new species, of everything from fish or corals. So far, 110 have been confirmed as new.

Among the findings, genetic evidence showed that the tentacles of the octopus family pointed to an Antarctic ancestor for many deep sea species. A modern octopus called Adelieledone in Antarctica seemed the closest relative of the original.

Octopuses apparently spread around the world after Antarctica became covered with a continent-wide ice sheet more than 30 million years ago, a shift that helped create oxygen-rich ocean currents flowing north, a report said.

“Isolated in new habitat conditions, many different species evolved; some octopuses, for example, losing their defensive ink sacs — pointless at perpetually dark depths,” the census said.

Classification: Biota > Animalia (Kingdom) > Mollusca (Phylum) > Conchifera (Subphylum) > Cephalopoda (Class) > Coleoidea (Subclass) > Octopodiformes (Superorder) > Octopoda (Order) > Incirrata (Suborder) > Octopodoidea (Superfamily) > Octopodidae (Family) > Adelieledone Allcock et al., 20

Wilkins Ice Shelf collapses in Antarctica

Wilkins Ice Shelf breakup - from air

Part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica has broken off and another part is hanging on by a narrow strip of ice. The ice has been in place for at least a few hundred years. In other places where this has happened it has been deadly for penguins because they can no longer reach the water or they can no longer climb back onto the ice.

Wilkins Ice Shelf breaking away from Antarctica - ground level

From the article:

Mar 25, 2008 07:48 PM

WASHINGTON – A chunk of Antarctic ice about the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said today.

Satellite images show the runaway disintegration of a 414-square-kilometre chunk in western Antarctica, which started Feb. 28. It was the edge of the Wilkins ice shelf and has been there for hundreds, maybe 1,500 years.

This is the result of global warming, said British Antarctic Survey scientist David Vaughan.

Because scientists noticed satellite images within hours, they diverted satellite cameras and even flew an airplane over the ongoing collapse for rare pictures and video….

Wilkins Ice Shelf breakup

The rest of the Wilkins ice shelf, which is about twice the size of Prince Edward Island, is holding on by a narrow beam of thin ice. Scientists worry that it too may collapse. Larger, more dramatic ice collapses occurred in 2002 and 1995.

Vaughan had predicted the Wilkins shelf would collapse about 15 years from now. The part that recently gave way makes up about four per cent of the overall shelf, but it is an important part that can trigger further collapse.

There is still a chance the rest of the ice shelf will survive until next year because this is the end of the Antarctic summer and colder weather is setting in, Vaughan said.

Scientists said they are not concerned about a rise in sea level from the latest event, but say it is a sign of worsening global warming.

Wilkins Ice Shelf breakup, from air

Such occurrences are “more indicative of a tipping point or trigger in the climate system,” said Sarah Das, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

“These are things that are not re-forming,” Das said. “So once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Climate in Antarctica is complicated and more isolated from the rest of the world.

Much of the continent is not warming and some parts are even cooling, Vaughan said. However, the western peninsula, which includes the Wilkins ice shelf, juts out into the ocean and is warming. This is the part of the continent where scientists are most concern about ice-melt triggering sea level rise.

breakup of Wilkins Ice Shelf, Antarctica

See also: Wilkins Ice Shelf on verge of collapse (MSNBC) .

For previous events, see “Ross Ice Shelf break-up in Antarctic,” (Dec. 20, 2006), “Dude, where’s my ice shelf?” (Dec. 30, 2006), and  “Arctic Ice reaches new low in historic times” (Aug. 2007).

Books online: Ernest Shackleton’s South

Ernest Shackleton in cold-weather gearErnest Shackleton was a genuine hero. We have a contemporary opinion from Sir Raymond Priestley (1886 – 1974), who was a British geologist and Antarctic explorer. Priestley actually went on Shackleton’s expedition of 1907 – 1909. A paraphrase of his judgement is printed on my favourite T-shirt:

“For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

Follow the link to read Ernest Shackleton’s own account of his expeditions to Antarctica.

Shackleton’s ship, Endurance

Read more about Shackleton.

Books: Monkey Girl has arrived

My presents arrived today: a copy of Monkey Girl, a movie of March of the Penguins, and as a special treat, the book March of the Penguins. For your pleasure, here’s a a link to a rveiew of Monkey Girl by Kit R. Roane,a senior writer with U.S. News & World Report:

“Although Humes attempts to keep an even keel in reporting on this maelstrom, he clearly has a hard time finding much good to say about some of evolution’s opponents, expressing amazement at the “near-total incuriosity and ignorance” of a board member who admitted “chirpily” on the stand that she was opposed to a science she didn’t understand and was helping to ram through a creationist textbook she had never actually read. Such displays, he adds, shocked even the presiding judge, a conservative jurist and devout Christian — and, indeed, he ended by ruling against the school board.”

Speaking of religion and society, tonight I went to hear Ayaan Hirsi Ali at one of our local Indigo bookstores. When the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered for producing the film “Submission,” about the Muslim religion from the point of view of women, her name was pinned to his chest with a knife. It was her screenplay. She is now living in the U.S. and there were police at the talk (and book-signing) to guard her.

Penguin evolution

Tonight we watchedthe movie March of the Penguins and also the documentary about its making. The director of photography for the movie, Laurent Chalet, and his assistant, Jerome Maison, spent one year in Antarctica shooting the film. At one point they were lost in a blizzard and had to be rescued by the French Antarctic research camp.

The Antarctic is beautiful, the penguins elegant, smooth, funny, and enduring.

The penguins are monogamous for their breeding, brooding, and chick-rearing period of about nine months. One educational site that I read stated that the penguins try to find their mate of the former year and only choose another if that mate does not show up.

Ross Ice Shelf break-up in Antarctica

The main link is an image of the Ross Ice shelf in Antarctica.
NASA news brings us an animated time-lapse imaging of the breakup of the Ross Ice Shelf.

Science News has more discussion including what might happen to the penguin colonies.

For previous events, see “Dude, where’s my ice shelf?” and  “Arctic Ice reaches new low in historic times” (Aug. 2007). For further developments, see “Wilkins Ice Shelf collapses in Antarctica.”

Icefish of Antarctica

Bouvet Island is a tiny, desolate, and ice-covered hunk of volcanic rock in the Antarctic Ocean. Around it live sixteen species of fish that are unique among vertebrates: they live without hemoglobin.

As continental drift carried their island into colder waters, red blood cells became a liability, thickening their blood. The fish first dropped the proportion of red blood in their veins, then did away with it altogether. The cold water carries enough oxygen to keep them alive. Their gills have grown large and their skin is filled with capillaries that absorb oxygen directly from the water as does a frog’s.

The two genes for hemoglobin are no longer used. One has deteriorated to a garbled fragment and the other has vanished. In five species, the gene for myoglobin in the muscles has also vanished, leaving them with white instead of pink hearts. In all other vertebrate species, myoglobin binds oxygen in the muscles, close to where it is used.

Over 55 million years, other changes have adapted these fish to living in extra-cold water. But there’s no going back. If the water warms up again, they will go extinct—if we haven’t killed them off with overfishing, first.

–from Skeptical Inquirer magazine

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