Larson B ice-shelf collapse reveals exotic organisms isolated for 10,000 years

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Sunday, August 7, 2005

The 2002 collapse of the Antarctic Larsen B Ice Shelf, which seemingly had remained stable for 10,000 years, has revealed a cold seep containing ecosystems that seem to have been isolated from the outside world for 10,000 years by a 600-foot ice shelf.

The discovery was made during an expedition led by Eugene Domack investigating the cause of the collapse. He concluded that the collapse was caused by long term gradual thinning of the shelf, followed by a recent increase in surface air temperature.

The cold seep is nearly 1.5 million square kilometers in area, and sits about 2,800 feet below the surface. The source of energy for the ecosystem has not yet been discovered, but Domack and his colleagues propose that it is methane, rather than sunlight or hot vents, that supplies energy to the system.

Domack warns that the collapse of the ice shelf may have disrupted and may possibly destroy the unusual ecosystem.