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The Marine World Below the Antarctic Sea Looks Like Outer Space

Ocean acidification has put these creatures at risk.

by Madison Margolin
Dec 22 2016, 4:00pm

Not sure if that's footage of aliens or earthlings? This Youtube video by Storyful News offers a rare peak at the marine world below Antarctic sea level. With all kinds of colors and shapes, starfish, wigglies, and pompom-looking things, it's really a world unto itself.

Glenn Johnstone, marine biologist with the Australian Antarctic Division, tells us in the video that the footage was shot close to the eastern Antarctic coast, five kilometers from the Casey Research Station and about 3800 kilometers below Perth, Australia.

The footage was taken as part of an experiment to look at the effects of ocean acidification, or the perpetual decrease in pH levels of the Earth's oceans. The researchers wanted to see the impacts of acidification on marine fauna, and how it might react to pH levels by the year 2100.

Climate change is one of the major threats to global marine systems, said Johnstone, and Antarctica is specifically sensitive to ocean acidification because cold water soaks up more carbon dioxide than water in warmer regions. "Antarctica is where we may see changes due to ocean acidification before we see it around the rest of the world," he said.

To get the footage, the researchers deployed a GoPro camera, mounted on top of a remote underwater vehicle, through a hole in the sea ice. The camera was lowered 30 meters below the sheet of ice.

At that level, the creatures enjoy a relatively stable environment, with little or no current or wind, due to the protective cap of sea ice sitting over it. The temperature also barely changes all year, so the organisms down there are not adapted as well to environmental changes as are others in more temperate or tropical zones where the temperature range is much broader.

And those all those wiggly, squishy, flowy creatures? It's a diverse array down there, according to Johnstone, which includes sea stars, sponges, ascidians, sea cucumbers, worms, sea spiders, and so on. So, while it's not outer space, it might as well be.

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