A research project has found that a huge amount of marine life could survive on a “frozen lake” that once served as a home for plankton and sea creatures.
The research, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge, was published today in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.
The study also showed that the area could be used as a new breeding site for certain marine life, such as whales.
“A lot of people are surprised to find the lake in the middle of nowhere,” Professor Simon Dutcher, lead author of the study, said.
“There are probably many fish, seals and sea birds in there that would have had nowhere to live before they were introduced into the area.”
Professor Dutchers team examined the lake, which is part of the Skellig Michael peninsula in Northern Ireland, from the south.
They collected sediment samples from the shoreline, which they deposited into tanks and then studied the plankton that grew on the surface and the oxygen levels.
“The lake has a lot of oxygen, so it could hold some of the same nutrients that would be present in a lake like a lake,” Professor Dukers said.
The researchers found that about half of the planktons that grew in the lake contained oxygen.
“If you can get a lot more oxygen in a frozen lake, that means there is more oxygen to be released from the water, and therefore more carbon dioxide,” Professor Richard Janson, one of the researchers, said from Cambridge.
“We don’t really know if that would lead to a lot less CO2, but it could also have benefits.”
Professor Janson said it was “unusual” to find a “sea life paradise” in a “lacklustre environment” like the Sollig Michael.
“You can imagine how a lake can be a bit more inviting, especially for marine life,” he said.
Dr Tom Williams, who is also part of Cambridge’s marine engineering research group, said the findings showed that “there’s plenty of room for life to thrive”.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” he told the BBC.
“It’s not like we’ve been there in the past, where we’ve found a lake and it’s frozen in time.”
Professor Williams said he hoped the study would help scientists better understand the effects of climate change on the Sullig Michael, which lies on the west coast of Ireland.
“What we have found here is that we can have a much more positive impact than previously thought on this lake,” he added.
“This lake was originally a closed area, so the sea animals and plankton did not move in the right way.”
Professor Jonathan Beaumont, a professor of environmental engineering at the University and a co-author of the research, said that there was an opportunity for the area to be used to improve marine life.
“Once you have that kind of lake, you can have really cool things like a whirlpool,” he explained.
“When the whirl pool goes down, there’s lots of oxygen and lots of nutrients to grow on the bottom.”
Professor Beaumons group also looked at how the plankptons and oxygen levels changed as the lake warmed.
They found that there were changes in the oxygen concentration, but also in the size and shape of the marine life on the water.
“All these different kinds of organisms, from plankton to sea birds, that are on the top of the ice and that is actually the way that they’re able to survive in this frozen lake,” Dr Beaumon said.
He said that it was important that the research highlighted how important marine ecosystems are for the health of our oceans.
“In the past we’ve known that we have to keep a lid on greenhouse gases and keep warming the planet, and this study really shows that you need to keep an eye on these processes,” he concluded.