The metallic underwater drone starkly contrasted Antarctica's blue sky and blue ice. Stretching 2.5 meters long, its sleek body epitomized modern technology.
The drone was the eighth member of an international research expedition to Antarctica last October. On its maiden voyage, it mapped hundreds of meters of ice algae with an enviable ease.
Ice algae play an important role in the ecosystem at both poles. Every year, the brownish phytoplanktons beneath the sea ice herald the spring. As sunlight returns, the algae populations grow, nourishing each subsequent link in the food chain.
"There are a whole lot of organisms that are dependent on the spring growth. It only occurs in the sea ice," says Ian Hawes,...