With the help of a special hot-water drill, a large, multidisciplinary team of scientists has become the first to bore through the Ross Ice Shelf—the biggest body of floating ice in the world, roughly the size of France—and sample life below nearly 2,500 feet of ice. What they found last week shocked them: a few varieties of fish and crustaceans alive and well in the dark, narrow wedge of cold seawater trapped between ice and a rocky sea floor. But what on earth are they eating? Even the sea floor sediment, comprised of mainly quartz, holds little nutritional value, reports Scientific American, and life in these conditions is so barren even the water is crystal clear.
To reach the previously unreachable place, scientists used the specially-designed and super skinny remotely-operated robotic vehicle called Deep-SCINI, which boasts sapphire-shielded cameras, a grabber arm, water-samplers, and more. Microbiologists are now heading home with water and mud samples to sort out just what drives this unlikely ecosystem. Could methane, ammonium, or some other form of chemical energy actually sustain life down there? Either way, this is the closest to the South Pole scientists have documented marine life, reports NBC News, and it suggests that complex life really can thrive in the harshest conditions. (Meanwhile, scientists are exploring whether life can exist 12 miles below ground.)