The Ross Sea supports one of the most remarkable seafloor communities in the world. Despite freezing temperatures and ice above and below, the Ross Sea benthic community thrives.
The Antarctic ocean floor is a mosaic with writhing piles of lurid sea stars, urchins and meter-long nemertean worms. Photo by John B. Weller.
The water averages -1.6 degrees Celsius – just above the freezing point of salt water. But even colder water, flowing upwards from beneath the ice shelf, crystalizes to form fields of stalagmites, the “anchor ice.” Photo by John B. Weller.
Vibrant sea stars litter the seafloor of the Ross Sea. These sea stars, Odontaster validus, are found throughout the Antarctic benthos. Photo by John B. Weller.
Up close, the sea star’s outer skin resembles tiny delicate flowers. Photo by John B. Weller.
This red sea urchin, known as Sterechinus neumayeri, litter the shallow benthos of the Ross Sea and throughout the greater Antarctic. Photo by John B. Weller.
Giant sea spiders (of the class Pycnogonida) walk the substrate with their bizarre walk, sometimes taking amphipods or other freeloading passengers along for the ride on their vivid red legs. Photo by John B. Weller.
Warm water isopods are usually only a few millimeters in length, but these giant Antarctica isopods (Glyptonotus antarcticus) can grow up to 20 cm (8 in) long! Photo by John B. Weller.
More than 800 amphipod species have been found in the Antarctic. Many of these, like the one pictured here (Epimeria sp), are found nowhere else on Earth. Photo by John B. Weller.
Isopods like Antarcturus often stand on top of small sponges to feed on passing zooplankton. They brood their eggs for a year, which hatch during the yearly phytoplankton bloom. Photo by John B. Weller.
Giant sponges (family Hexactinellid) filter the water, some larger than 50-gallon drums and thought to be centuries old. Photo by John B. Weller.
The inside walls of the glass sponge can be quite large, often providing refuge for a wide range of other seafloor animals. Photo by John B. Weller.
There are more than 100 types of brittle stars (class Ophiuroids) in the Antarctic, including this Ross Sea specimen. Photo by John B. Weller.
The Antarctic scallop (Adamussium colbecki), a species found only in the Antarctic, amidst the ice off the Ross Sea seafloor. Photo by John B. Weller.
Attached to the rocks, anemones wave their many arms in search of food. Photo by John B. Weller.