The deep, unexplored waters surrounding Antarctica have always been “a black spot on the map,” says marine biologist Angelika Brandt of the Hamburg Zoological Museum, who recently conducted the world’s first biological survey of the Southern Ocean floor. No more. Brandt led a small army of scientists on three expeditions to the Weddell Sea in Antarctica, where they collected bottom-dwelling organisms at 40 different locations, some in waters nearly four miles deep. She expected to find deep-sea biodiversity paralleling that of the Northern Hemisphere—rich near the equator but thin near the poles.
Instead, the researchers hauled up a startling variety—including bristly polychaete worms, isopod and amphipod crustaceans, mollusks, gastropods, sea urchins, brittle stars, nematode roundworms, and carnivorous sponges. “Before we went,” Brandt says, “we expected interesting results, but nothing like the tremendous diversity we documented.”