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WATCH: This robot captured rare footage beneath the Antarctic sea ice

A still from the underwater footage. Image: Australian Antarctic Division

Australian scientists attached a camera to a ROV (remotely operated vehicle) deployed under the sea ice at O’Brien Bay, near Casey research station in East Antarctica.

The footage the robot explorer captured gives a rare glimpse into the Antarctic underwater world.

The robot was retrieving a SeapHox pH data logger, which has been recording the acidity, oxygen, salinity and temperature of seawater on an hourly basis since November last year.

Here’s the footage:

“When you think of the Antarctic coastal marine environment, the iconic species such as penguins, seals and whales usually steal the show,” says Drr Glenn Johnstone, an Australian Antarctic Division biologist.

“This footage reveals a habitat that is productive, colourful, dynamic and full of a wide variety of biodiversity, including sponges, sea spiders, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars.”

These communities live in water that is -1.5°C all year round and covered in 1.5 metre thick sea ice for 10 months.

“Occasionally an iceberg may move around and wipe out an unlucky community, but mostly the sea ice provides protection from the storms that rage above, making it a relatively stable environment in which biodiversity can flourish,” says Dr Johnstone.

Scientists are only just beginning to understand the biodiversity and complexity of the Antarctic near-shore ecosystem and the threats it is facing into the future.

The Australian Antarctic Program project is the final field component of an experiment designed to determine the impact of ocean acidification on Southern Ocean sea-floor under increasing carbon dioxide emissions.

A quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean which increases its acidity.

Antarctica may be one of the first places where the detrimental effects of ocean acidification are measured.

Australian Antarctic Division PhD student James Black says the ROV was deployed through a small hole drilled in the sea ice and also collected diatoms and sediment.

Scientists will study the effect of ocean acidification on these communities in laboratories at the Division’s headquarters in Tasmania.

“Even small shifts in the timing of sea ice breakout can alter the composition of communities in these shallow coastal waters so we’re seeking to understand what other impacts there may be in an acidifying ocean,” Black said.

Scientist operating remote vehicle at O’Brien Bay.
Image: Dominic Hall/Australian Antarctic Division

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