The coast of the West Antarctic landmass is one of the most desolate places on the planet. For 1,000 kilometers, it is buried under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, a series of interconnected glaciers the size of western Europe that slowly slides off the continent into the sea. As the ice crosses the end of the buried land, it becomes a flat shelf hundreds of meters thick that extends hundreds of kilometers farther out to sea, floating on the water. The shelf is the size of Spain, so vast that it could take three to 10 years for an ocean current far below to carry a speck of plankton from the open sea, where sunlight and food are abundant, to the forbidding darkness way back at the submerged shoreline.