March 16th, 2010
10:39 AM ET

NASA discovers life hidden 600 feet below Antarctic ice

A three-inch long Lyssianasid amphipod (seen in orange) was found on the underside of the McMurdo ice shelf in Antarctica.

Six hundred feet below the Antarctic ice, where no light can be found, NASA scientists made a startling discovery – a swimming shrimp-like creature that could challenge the idea of where and how forms of life can survive.

While the creature is small itself -– only about three inches long -– its impact could be tremendous.

A NASA team had lowered a small video camera to get the first-ever photograph of the underside of an ice shelf – and that’s when they saw the swimming creature, according to a NASA document.

The discovery could shake the very foundation of what kind of creatures can survive in certain atmospheres.

"We were operating on the presumption that nothing's there," NASA ice scientist Robert Bindschadler told the Associated Press. "It was a shrimp you'd enjoy having on your plate."

"We were just gaga over it," he told the AP.

The creature, a Lyssianasid amphipod, could lead the way for larger expeditions into harsher environments that scientists previously believed could not support life – both on the Earth and even frozen moons in outer space.

soundoff (608 Responses)
  1. Oren

    The ignorance is rampant here. That "shrimp" has to be chemoheterotrophic (since there's no light as a source of energy), which means it gets it's food and energy from organic compounds in its environment. That almost definitely means that there's other kinds of life down there. It's not just a shrimp they found, it's the potential for an entire ecosystem, and it means a hell of a lot for potential life outside of the earth.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Edward

    Why do scientists think just because life can exist on a harsh portion of earth that it could exist on a planet entirely covered by a similarly harsh environment. That does not compute. It seems to me that there would have to be ideal conditions for life to form and develop into creatures.

    Another stupid point is this. If you asked anyone "Do you think there is any part of the ocean that covers the planet earth that is sterile?" Only an idiot would say yes. How could it be sterile when there are currents all over the place and we have all seen the creatures at the bottom of the sea (where it is freaking cold). Do you think the shrimp is just going to roll over and die because he went under an ice shelf? I don't think so. Ever turned over a rock? Gee, who would think there could be life under a rock.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ned

    If you don't think new species are important, go research what your medicines are made of...because it is often plant and animal extracts. Just because you have no clue how science is applied doesn't mean that those of us who went to school, more school, labs, internships, residencies and ultimately expeditions are going to stop because of the price tag. If you're worried about the budget, call for the end of the 2 brilliant wars we're now stuck in. The same science brought you the computer that you're now spouting your ingnorance on.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. NC

    I think it is crazy that they spend time and lots of money on this crap. Who really cares. We just need to stop polluting our own world.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jim Eckman

    It is utterly stupid to think of this as a significant find. I am a marine ecologist, and have specialized in studying deep-ocean animals – there are plenty of animals like this, and even more complex in the evolutionary scheme, commonly in the deepest regions of the ocean – icy cold waters more than 35,000 feet deep. This is not an important find. Really. These NASA scientists need to read the literature and stop trying to be sensationalistic

    March 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. garbs

    First, I can't believe anyone would be surprised to find life in any environment...let alone a scientist! Second, there is obviously a food supply for this shrimp....which leads me to ask, "what down there is eating the shrimp"?lol...or is it at the top of the food chain? Maybe they should just drop a line down with a dead shrimp on it and see what they catch?

    March 16, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lee

    So many of these comments are silly.
    Some people just don't have patience for science I guess.
    It's as if they expect this remarkable discovery to change the world in and of itself.
    And as for the scientists introducing pathogens to this creatures environment, that's not likely. It's a freezing environment. This hardy little creature can endure these temperatures where most pathogens, or other creatures for that matter, could not. REMARKABLE.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. prhamilt

    One reason to look UNDER an ice sheet is learn more about how glaciers flow over the bedrock. Since we have recently learned that melt water on the surface of a glacier can move through crevices in the ice and cause a large region of the glacier to literally float above the rock, this could well be critical to determining how long we have before continental glaciers slide away into the oceans.

    Some people look around and see nothing but commercial goods on the shelves – others look at those same products and see the end result of basic scientific research that some one once derided as "a waste of tax dollars".

    March 16, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. sec

    Unless I mutate and grow gills, I dont care about living under water. I know I can't survive in space, so who cares about what is on Mars or some other planet the human race cannot live on. Lets fix this planet. If it can't sustain human life, then it is not worth the billions of dollars spent on it. Colonies on another planet wil NEVER happen.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. greg

    Wow, I am amazed at the negative comments about exploration and the advancement of science that are being displayed in these responses. A find like this is simply amazing. We have yet to unlock all the secrets the Earth holds, and I for one, applaud NASA for the work they do. Yeah, they tend to run way over budget on projects and are suffering from a lack of focus and mission, but they do work that is vital, no matter how much negative press they get. Why do we explore in these places? Because it is what's next. We have no idea what is there, and until we look into all the corners of our planet and beyond, exploration like this should be heralded.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Marko

    2 football fields thickness of ice and they find life under it, that is truly amazing and its not like the ice in a back yard lake. Those environments have other seasons for life to flourish, balance a food chain and then enter a hibernation period for those winter months. This environment has no spring, has no seasons of light and growth. This is why it is of interest to NASA because this ice shelf is a constant, and if life can live there without light, flora or warmth then it changes the rules. To the people up in arms about NASA doing experiments here, their goal is to understand the universe and objects in space and space iteself and last I checked, we are one. You would have to be pretty naive to think this planet is 100% discovered.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MBerke


    Those ice cores (what was in the holes before they were drilled) contain information about the environment when that level was the top of the ice pack – hundreds/thousands of years ago.

    But it does take an educated reader to determine what it was like. We ignore the past at our peril. But we seem to enjoy doing that. Anti-intellectualism is alive and well.

    Just my $0.02 worth...

    March 16, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  13. GetReal

    If they were operating under the assumption that nothing was there, why did they send the camera down?? Get Real.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. exart

    What is NASA doing in the Antartica? – Data collected from the mission will help scientists better predict how changes to the massive Antarctic ice sheet will contribute to future sea level rise around the world.

    March 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. David Merchant

    NASA was probably drilling to study and test methods of drilling through ice in preparation for a future possible robotic expedition to Europa and other icy moons that may actually have liquid oceans buried under very thick sheets of ice, and which may contain life.

    March 16, 2010 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
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