for National Geographic News
A treasure trove of more than 700 new species has been uncovered in the dark depths of oceans surrounding Antarctica, researchers report. (See a photo gallery of the finds.)
Heart-shaped sea urchins, carnivorous sponges, and giant sea spiders the size of dinner plates are among the surprising discoveries brought up from the seafloor about 2,300 to 19,700 feet (700 to 6,000 meters) beneath the Antarctic waves.
"We were astonished by the enormous biodiversity we found in many groups of species," said study lead author Angelika Brandt, a marine biologist at the University of Hamburg in Germany.
"We used to think that, with decreasing nutrient and food availability, there might cause a decrease in biodiversity toward the Poles," Brandt said.
"There were a lot of species we hadn't seen before, because so little was known before we started," said study co-author Brigitte Ebbe, a marine biologist at the German Centre for Marine Biodiversity Research in Willhelmshaven.
The research was part of the Antarctic Benthic Deep-Sea Biodiversity Project, or ANDEEP. An international team of researchers from 14 organizations embarked on three ANDEEP expeditions between 2002 and 2005 on the German research vessel Polarstern in the Weddell Sea, east of the Antarctic Peninsula.
(See a map of the region.)
The project has made a major contribution to the Census of Marine Life (CoML) programme, a global collaboration among thousands of researchers who aim to make a detailed record of all ocean life by 2010.
"In other oceans the number of species drops the deeper you go," said study co-author Katrin Linse, a marine biologist at the British Antarctic Survey.
"But in the Southern Ocean we found the opposite trend."
The Southern Ocean includes the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans surrounding Antarctica.
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