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Icefish in the Weddell Sea. Photo: Alfred Wegener Institute / PS124 AWI OFOBS team

Scientists have discovered a massive breeding colony of icefish in Antarctica's southern Weddell Sea.

The big picture: Groups of up to 60 icefish nests have been spotted before, but researchers have now found an estimated 60 million active nests, which is believed to be the largest ever seen.

Details: Scientists were towing a camera behind their research vessel early last year to survey the seafloor when they made the surprising discovery.

  • "We found fish nest after fish nest for four hours," says Autun Purser, a deep-sea ecologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. "Nothing but fish nests."
  • The colony spans an estimated 240 square kilometers (about 93 square miles), the researchers reported in the journal Current Biology.
  • The majority of the nests had one male icefish guarding the eggs.

Why it matters: The researchers think the icefish (Neopagetopsis ionah) could be using the warmer waters in the area to navigate to the breeding colony.

  • Purser says it is likely the icefish are an important food source for Weddell seals that populate the sea ice and are known to dive in the area.

What's next: The scientists left cameras in the water to photograph the nests four times each day for the next three years.

  • They're interested in capturing more details about the nests — including whether the eggs hatch at the same time and if the location of the nests changes — to understand how the massive colony delivers nutrients to the unique ecosystem.
  • "The deep sea and under ice environment are not barren of life," Purser says. The colony is "a huge hidden ecosystem and it must support and influence neighboring ecosystems."

Go deeper

Why the Fed might want to jolt the markets

Fed chair Jerome Powell at a hearing earlier this month. Photo: Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images

So far, financial markets are cooperating nicely with the Federal Reserve's efforts to restrain inflation. They're doing the Fed's work for it by creating tighter financial conditions, in a distinctly non-panicky way.

  • But as the central bank's policymakers meet this week, an underlying question they face is whether the adjustment is happening too slowly.
Kate Marino, author of Markets
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views of their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of canceled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
3 hours ago - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to change it officially.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.