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As ice melts, glass sponges invade Antarctica

Delila James | Science Recorder | July 12, 2013

As ice melts, glass sponges invade Antarctica

Glass sponges hit Antarctica.

There is a surprising population explosion of Antarctic glass sponges over the past several years, according to a new study published today (July 11) in the journal Current Biology. Scientists, who had long assumed that these marine creatures grew very slowly, were amazed to find that the sponges doubled in biomass and tripled in number between 2007 and 2013. The research team, made up of biologists from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Helmholtz Center for Polar and Marine Research, conclude that the startling increase in glass sponges is directly linked to the 1995 collapse of the Larsen A ice shelf, when an area of about 770 square miles (2,000 square kilometers) fell into the sea.

“To the organisms living on the sea bed, the disappearance of the hundred-meter-thick Larsen A ice shelf must have been like the heavens opening up above them,” said project leader Dr. Claudio Richter. In surface waters now awash in sunlight, plankton can flourish, creating a constant rain of food onto the sea floor.

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