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Under Antarctica: Behind the Scenes Photos

 This is an expedition unlike any other. National Geographic photographer Laurent Ballesta took a plunge below the ice cold sea and embarked on the deepest dive ever made under Antarctica, in which he captured both thriving plants and animals. Here's what he saw: 
 
 
Click on images to enlarge
 
1. A penguin swims past a diver nearby. The brown patches captured in the photo are microalgae which cling to sea ice and photosynthesize in the spring. 
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2. Divers documented plant and animal life up to 230 feet below the surface for nearly five hours at a time. 
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3. 16 species were found in Antarctica, one of which is this octopus. They have a specialized pigment in their blood turning it blue to help them survive subfreezing temperatures. 
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4. A Weddell seal swims beneath the ice. It stays near the coast breathing air through holes in the ice. 
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5. Diver swims more than 200 feet below the surface. Here, the light is dim and temperatures drop below 29°F.
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6. Young Weddell seal sits in an ice gap. Once its fully grown it will be about 10 feet long and weigh half a ton. 
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7. A variety of marine invertebrates call Antarctica home. 
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8. A seal swims beneath sea ice near East Antarctica’s Dumont d’Urville Station.
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9. The rope helps divers find their way back to the surface. 
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10. More than 200 feet down, orange sea squirts, which look very much like sponges are tethered to the sea floor. These sea squirts are quite evolved - the larvae have spinal cords.
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11. A hundred feet below the ice a feather star waves its arms in order to capture food particles. While it may look like a plant, it is actually an animal and it can swim. 
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12. An octopus jets above a seabed packed with life.
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13. A curious young seal, just a couple of weeks old, comes in for a close-up. 
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14. Body stowed inside the ice floe, an anemone lets its tentacles dangle in the dark water. Scientists can’t say how it penetrates the ice—or survives there. 
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15. Ice covered brine or brincles leak from sea ice near East Antarctica’s Dumont d’Urville Station.  They are seldom seen and form when trapped, super-cooled brine escapes from the ice and freezes less salty seawater.
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16. Pictured here is an isopod which looks like a pill bug, and rolls up when threatened. It is nearly five inches long. 
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17. A wary icefish takes cover in a kelp grove. They have antifreeze proteins in the blood that helps them withstand temperatures below 29°F.
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18. A Weddell seal accompanies her pup on a swim beneath the ice.
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19. Emperor penguins in search for food. 
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20. This sea star nestled up to a worm-ridden treelike sponge is more than a foot across.
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Photography by Laurent Ballesta for National Geographic 
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