Scientists drilled a half-mile-long (900 meters) hole into an Antarctic ice shelf, and found a rock covered with unknown animals on the seafloor below.

The geologists were looking to gather sediment samples from the ocean floor and was shocked to find marine life below. They set up camp on a large body of floating ice in the southeastern Weddell Sea called the Rilchner-Ronne Ice Shelf.

The team of geologists shoveled snow and used hot water to bore a narrow hole through the ice. Once the hole was complete, they lowered a camera with their sediment corer to scope out the seafloor.

They were expecting to hit mud, “but instead, they hit a rock. And that’s incredibly bad luck for them,” said Huw Griffiths, a marine biogeographer with the British Antarctic Survey. The camera picked up a community of sponges and other unknown filter feeders clinging to the stone.

“It’s a place where, essentially, we didn’t expect this kind of community to live at all,” Griffiths said. “This is showing us that life is more resilient, and more robuts, than we ever could have expected, if it can put up with these conditions.”

Griffiths and his colleagues published a paper on their discovery on February 15 in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

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