The LARISSA project is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded initiative bringing together an international team of scientists investigating the environmental changes in the Antarctic’s LARsen Ice Shelf System. The overarching goal of this project is to compare the ecological processes and relationships that existed underneath the Ice Shelf before 2002 with the changes the ecosystem is currently undergoing.
Satellites have been tracking the system located in the northwest embayment of the Weddell Sea since 1990. In 2002, a 3,200km2 section disintegrated into the Southern Ocean in nearly one month. Approximately 600 ft. thick, scientists are led to believe the ice shelves demise might be the result of long-term loss of ice due to increased surface air temperatures.
In an area that had virtually no light, the input of materials derived by photosynthesis moving laterally underneath the ice shelf from nearby open waters was severely limited. As a result, chemosynthetic ecosystems developed, dominated by large microbial mats and vesicomyid clams, the ice playing a major role in the ecology of the marine ecosystem. This is the only active cold-seep discovered in a polar region.
The collapse of the Larsen B in 2002 exposed a 1.5 million square kilometer area of seafloor that had been hidden for nearly 10,000 years (Domack et al. 2005). This collapse is dramatically altering numerous processes in the underlying marine ecosystem. Now that the ice shelf has disappeared will the underlying community continue to survive? Is the ecosystem at risk?