Scientists are rushing to explore an underwater area previously covered by an Antarctic ice shelf for 120,000 years. When a trillion-ton iceberg the size of Delaware broke away from Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf, it created an opportunity for scientists to gain a greater understanding of the aquatic polar ecosystem that dwells beneath the ice.

Antarctica, Antarctica ice shelf, Antarctica ice berg, Antarctica ice

Researchers are now in a race against time to study the 2,246 square-mile area before it begins to change. “The calving of [iceberg] A-68 [from the Larsen C Ice Shelf] provides us with a unique opportunity to study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change,” said Kkatrin Linse of the British Antarctica Survey (BAS) in a statement. “It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonize.” Two previous efforts to explore newly exposed Antarctic ecosystems in 1995 and 2002 yielded little in terms of studied life. However, both efforts took five to 12 years after an iceberg’s break before studying the area up close. By then, organisms had begun to occupy space in the newly open habitat.

Related: Meteorologist warns collapse of two Antarctic glaciers could flood every coastal city on Earth

Antarctica, Antarctica ice shelf, Antarctica ice berg, Antarctica ice

Scientists are set to depart from the Falkland Islands on February 21, then spend three weeks aboard the BAS research vessel RRS James Clark Ross on which the team will gather and study biological samples from organisms, sediments, and water. During their study, the team may encounter such wild Antarctic creatures as the icefish, which creates natural antifreeze within its body to survive in frigid waters, or the bristled marine worm, described by Live Science as “a Christmas ornament from hell.

Via Live Science

Images via NASA (1)