Aberdeen scientists have embarked on a mission to the bottom of the planet.
University of Aberdeen researchers have set sail for Antarctica with an international team of experts to investigate a newly-discovered marine ecosystem which could disappear at any moment.
The ecosystem, which has been hidden for 120,000 years beneath an ice shelf, is four times the size of London.
The race is on to get to the continent as soon as possible, as it could change at any moment as sunlight starts to alter the surface layers of the sea.
Marine biologist and mission leader Katrin Linse said: “It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonise.
“We’ve put together a team with a wide range of scientific skills so that we can collect as much information as possible in a short time.
“It’s very exciting.”
The scientists taking part in the expedition will explore the area previously under the iceberg to collect samples of seafloor animals, microbes, plankton, sediments and water.
Led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the Aberdeen members of the international crew left on February 14 for the Falkland Islands.
They will arrive in Antarctica on Wednesday aboard the BAS research ship RRS James Clark Ross,
Aberdeen PhD student Anni Makela, who is part of the research team, said: “I am very excited to participate on this once-in-a-lifetime cruise and investigate this previously unexplored ecosystem.”
Professor Ursula Witte, Aberdeen leader on the project, said: “Getting there so early is very exciting because it will allow us to see how deep-sea ecosystems adapt to rapid change.”
The team of researchers should be back in March after spending three weeks in Antarctica.