Octopus DNA helped reveal something very disturbing about the fate of Antarctica!

Octopus DNA helped reveal something very disturbing about the fate of Antarctica!

Octopus (NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, 2013 US Northeast Canyons Expedition)

octopus

(NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, 2013 Northeastern United States Canyons Expedition)

For the vast majority of us, octopus intercourse might seem like something you can bury under the incognito coffin of your browser history. But for an elite group of researchers studying the melting ice in Antarctica, they simply can't wait to learn more about these things – but not for the reasons you might think!

Beneath the icy grip of Antarctica, where sunlight struggles to penetrate and temperatures drop below the freezing point, a magnificent creature thrives: the Turquet octopus. Its DNA, a muddled story of the masters and mistresses they mingled with in the past, holds important secrets about the continent's precarious future.

The half-foot-long Turquet octopus lives a very interesting life. It only lays a few large eggs on the sea floor, which forces it to exert a tremendous amount of effort to ensure that its offspring hatch and mature sufficiently. This, coupled with unstable regional marine conditions, means that these species rarely venture far from their current habitat and territory, and are widespread in the region throughout Antarctica.

Like the whispers of modern-day octopuses, scientists have cracked the genetic code of these eight-legged time capsules. By analyzing DNA from geographically isolated populations, they discovered a fascinating fact: about 125,000 years ago, when Earth was as warm as it is today, there was an ice-free corridor that ran across Antarctica. Through this watery highway, Turquet's octopuses were free to mingle with exotic groups they had never seen before, and their genes were slowly weaving a tapestry of common ancestry.

Before you start daydreaming about potential octopus encounters, this revelation is also alarming. If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) melted during a period that mirrored our current climate, it would mean that its future stability was worryingly fragile as well. Studies have shown that a potential collapse of WAIS could unleash a torrent of meltwater that could raise sea levels by a staggering 3.3 to 5 metres.

The study also reveals a double whammy: Two distinct periods of WAIS collapse, one in the mid-Pliocene and the other during the last Ice Age, a warm spell eerily similar to our own. This shocking coincidence serves as a stark reminder: the ice sheet has bent before, and it could happen again.

The consequences of the collapse of WAIS are nothing short of catastrophic. Coastal cities home to millions around the world will be submerged, ecosystems will be destroyed, and the map of our planet will be changed forever. The fate of WAIS is at stake, and now is the time to act, not just for ourselves, but for the octopuses, penguins, seals, and all the creatures that call Antarctica home.

The results of this research were published in Sciences It can be accessed here.

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