New Zealand scientists drilling through Antarctic ice discovered an underwater ecosystem 500 metres down. Photo: Craig Stevens/NIWA
The coastal plain of the Kamb Ice Stream, a West Antarctic glacier, hardly seems like a coast at all. Stand in this place, 800 kilometers from the South Pole, and you see nothing but flat ice extending in every direction. The ice is some 700 meters thick and stretches for hundreds of kilometers off the coastline, floating on the water. On clear summer days, the ice reflects the sunlight with such ferocity that it inflicts sunburn in the insides of your nostrils. It might seem hard to believe, but hidden beneath this ice is a muddy tidal marsh, where a burbling river wends its way into the ocean.
Until recently, no human had ever glimpsed this secret landscape. Scientists had merely inferred its existence from the faint reflections of radar and seismic waves. But in the closing days of 2021, a team of scientists from New Zealand's Antarctic Science Platform melted a narrow hole through the glacier’s ice and lowered in a camera.
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