When the continent of Antarctica is mentioned, pictures of icy, snow-filled landscapes and its inhabitants like the polar bear usually come to mind. On that note, it might surprise you to hear that researchers have uncovered evidence which suggests the South Pole was once home to swampy rainforests, possessing a more temperate climate.
This information was obtained by analysing mid-Cretaceous period soil samples believed to date back some 80-115 million years ago. The research team published their findings on the website, Nature, and discovered that Antarctica once had an average temperature of around 12°C about 90 million years ago.
Scientists analysed an ice core extracted from a seabed near glaciers found in West Antarctica. Among their discoveries were spores, a dense network of roots, the remains of flowering plants and well-preserved forest soil.
Paleo-ecologist and study co-author – Professor Ulrich Salzmann of Northumbria University said “the numerous plant remains indicate that 93 to 83 million years ago the coast of West Antarctica was a swampy landscape in which temperate rainforests grew – similar to the forests that can still be found, say, on New Zealand’s South Island.”
To get a clearer picture of Antarctica’s climate around that time, researchers accounted for conditions that would’ve been suitable for the plants found in the soil sample to grow. Through this, they learned that summer temperatures might’ve been around 19°C whereas water temperatures in both rivers and swamps could have reached up to 20°C.
The researchers believe that West Antarctica’s amount and intensity of rainfall 90 million years ago would have been similar to the one seen in Wales today. Their findings also suggest that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were higher than previously expected during the mid-Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs still roamed the planet.
For now, the research team is still trying to understand what caused the climate to shift into a colder state and form ice sheets in Antarctica.
(*Feature image taken from Bloomberg)
Keep your cool with more JUICE.