Long since the age of exploration, the South Pole was considered as the frozen wasteland that did not ever support life.
Well, this historic assumption ends today as the scientists have revealed that this white-continent was once thriving with life.
Antarctica had the thriving rainforest :
While researching aboard a polar research vessel on the Amundsen Sea, West Antarctica, the scientists have discovered the ancient fossils of pollen spores, tree roots along with other chemical residues buried in the seabed. The samples were extracted using a drill rig near the Thwaites glaciers.
The carbon dating of the fossils revealed that they were 90 million years old which confirms the presence of swampy rainforests along with a good ecosystem during the Age of Dinosaurs in the mid-Cretaceous period in Antarctica. The geography of the continent was suitable to support the food-chain on land. The scientific reports of this discovery were published in Nature by the research team.
An illustration of the temperate rainforest that thrived in West Antarctica about 90 million years ago…
Image: © J. Mckay/Alfred Wegener Institute (CC-BY 4.0)
Head of the research team members, Johann Klages, a marine geologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute said, “During the initial shipboard assessments, the unusual coloration of the sediment layer quickly caught our attention; it clearly differed from the layers above it. We had found a layer originally formed on land, not in the ocean.”
Based on the analysis of the fossils, the scientists reconstructed the climatic conditions of Antarctica in the mid-Cretaceous period. The average annual temperature of the Antarctic region was around 13°C, with temperatures reaching up to 25°C in the summers.
This discovery also revealed that the period between 90 million and 86 million years was the hottest of the Cretaceous period.
The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were estimated to be as high as 1600 parts per million which are several times as high as it is in the 21st Century.
But according to the study, just the higher Co2 level wasn’t enough for the rainforests to thrive in the South Pole, the higher Co2 level was accomplished with other harmful greenhouse gases to change Antarctica into a swampy rainforest. Even though there was a 4-month pause in the falling-sunlight on Antarctica, the rainforest still thrived.
Dr. Torsten Bickert, a geologist at the University of Bremen’s MARUM research facility said, “we know that there could easily be 4 straight months without sunlight in the Cretaceous period. But because the Co2 concentration was so high, the climate around the south pole was nevertheless temperature without ice masses.”
If Antarctica was packed with ice, it would have reflected most of the sunlight reaching the ground, but the scenario of rainforest isn’t the same, the vegetation absorbs the sunlight intensifying the temperature unlike Antarctica today. But scientists also said that 90 million years ago the movement of the continents by the Earth’s tectonic plates should also be taken into account.
This study has shown how climate change can impact the poles of our planet. If the same warming trend of our planet continues, this 90 million-year-old history will soon be a reality.