The 9000 year history of an aquatic community below the Amery Ice Shelf in East Antarctica has been pieced together with the support of the Australian Antarctic Division.

In the summer of 2003–2004 researchers from Geoscience Australia and the University of Tasmania worked on the AMISOR project, led by the Antarctic Division’s Mike Craven.

They spent a month on the Amery Ice Shelf drilling through ice up to half a kilometre thick to gather samples from the sea floor.

Analysis of the shell fossils in the sample sediments has now revealed an ecosystem which has developed slowly since the end of the last glaciation, or ice age.

Geoscience Australia geologist, Dr Alex Post, said the first animals started living in the area 9000 years ago and over the next few thousand years sponges and bryozoans colonised the area.

“I was surprised to see such a long history of habitation in the area, but it was also interesting to note how slowly things changed over time,” Dr Post said.

“While this study concentrated on the development of the sea bed communities, we hope this information will give us a better understanding of the potential impact of global warming in the future,” she said.