Ancient mollusks have been discovered in the depths of the Arctic ice, where they sat for a million years before being uncovered by paleontologists.
Brian Edwards directed science aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, on a joint mission with Canadian investigators. The main purpose of the journey was to utilize the ice breaker in order to map the seafloor, and analyze sediment under the bed. Core samples were taken, in an effort to understand a distinctive area, that seemed to differ from the surrounding region. Some of these core samples held mollusk shells, which had been sitting around 15 feet under the seabed.
These samples were sent to Chuck Powell, a paleontologist with the United States Geological Survey for analysis. The researcher was able to identify the shell as coming from a member of the animal family Thyasiridae, but he could not match the sample to any known species or genus. In order to obtain a second opinion, Powell sent shell specimens to Paul Valentich-Scott at Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, an expert on clams. Valentich-Scott became convinced the shells were examples of a newly-discovered species. Other researchers examining data confirmed the conclusion, some of whom suggested the find might even represent a new genus of animals.
Paul contacted museums around the world, asking to borrow shells of other mollusks he believed could be related to the distinctive shells. Many of the samples showed some similarities to the shells discovered in Arctic, but none were similar enough to be considered the same species.
"It is always exciting when you are the first person to be looking at a new creature. While I have been fortunate to discover and describe many new species in my career, it is always exhilarating at the outset," Valentich-Scott said.
Although many of the shells found in the ice were fossilized, it is possible the animal may still be alive. Future investigations of the marine environment surrounding the North Pole could possibly reveal living specimens of the mollusk species still alive today.
Arctic ice has become a hotbed of research for climatologists in recent years, as the material could hold vast quantities of methane hydrates, powerful greenhouse gases. If these deposits are released into the atmosphere through melting, they could push global climate change, with potentially hazardous consequences.
Wallerconcha sarae, the newly-discovered genus and species, was named after paleontologist Thomas Waller ("concha" means shell), and Powell's daughter Sara.
Finding and identification of the newly-discovered species of ancient mollusk was detailed in the journal ZooKeys.