2007 is International Polar Year. It's an international effort to spur scientific research at the most forbidding places on Earth, primarily because many in science consider the North and South Poles essential to life on the planet.
The delicate balance between sun, water, and ice hugely impacts life on planet Earth; hence growing concerns over global warming, and a concentrated effort by scientists to accelerate polar research. This year, there was documented evidence of significant melting at both poles. And the U.S. Space Agency, NASA, and others, confirm the Earth has warmed nearly two degrees since 1900. That may not sound like much, but warming temperatures fuel extreme weather patterns. And a recent study suggests continued global warming could raise sea levels several meters by the end of the century.
The poles are strange, beautiful places, where the sun moves sideways, nights last for months, and bone-chilling winds scar the landscape. The North Pole is an ice sheet floating on the Arctic Ocean; a volatile terrain inhabited by fascinating creatures above and below the ice. The colder South Pole sits atop the massive, frozen continent of Antarctica. The southern ice sheet is over 2200 meters thick, on average. That amounts to 90 percent of the world's ice and 70 percent of its fresh water. Beneath these frigid waters researchers find a world teeming with life.
Dale Anderson a scientist with the Carl Sagan Center says, "Most of this area has never been explored or seen with human eyes. The surprising thing for me was just to find the great diversity of life that we find under the ice."
Life -- such as fish with a natural antifreeze that keeps their blood from freezing and huge jelly fish with tentacles fifteen meters long. More, along the sea floor: a silent, eerie forest thick with microscopic life.
Researcher George Simmons adds, "Upon landing on the bottom I realized that the entire bottom quaked around me, much like landing on a big bowl of Jello [gelatin]."
"These microbial mats that we see in the lakes in the Antarctic may resemble communities that may have lived on Mars billions of years ago," says Anderson.
Scientists say these icy polar waters have much to teach about the mysteries of life on our world and perhaps on distant worlds as well.