Antarctica is a land of ice, snow and penguins, which makes it sort of a two-tone continent: white as far as the eye can see with penguin-provided spots of black.
Thanks to a new undersea probe, we have a fuller sense of Antarctica's ocean floor, and it's anything but black and white.
"When you think of the Antarctic coastal marine environment, the iconic species such as penguins, seals and whales usually steal the show," says Dr. Glenn Johnstone, an Australian Antarctic Division biologist who helped oversee the probe. "This footage reveals a habitat that is productive, colorful, dynamic and full of a wide variety of biodiversity, including sponges, sea spiders, urchins, sea cucumbers and sea stars."
Indeed, the seafloor is filled with colors. Purple, yellow, blue and orange dominate the probe's view.
These colorful communities thrive in no small part thanks to the cover provided by Antarctic's 5-foot-thick sea ice. That cover does sometimes "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 Johnstone.
Such diversity is threatened, though. Due to carbon dioxide and ocean acidification, the color of these neighborhoods could be drained and their organisms killed. Researchers with the Antarctic Division are studying the effects of acidification on these types of communities in labs.