Ancient roots, spores and pollen found in a rock sample suggest that Antarctica was once a rainforest.
The forest, which existed 90 million years ago when dinosaurs still ruled the Earth, existed at a time when global temperatures were much higher than they are today. As well as the sea level was 167 meters higher than now.
The Earth’s climate has changed many times in history, with global temperatures rising and falling dramatically over millions of years. During the ice ages, for example, temperatures dropped and the polar ice sheet spread towards the equator.
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Some scientists believe that over a period of time, ice covered the entire globe. They call it the “Snowball Land.” Global warming, on the other hand, rose sharply during periods of warming known as “greenhouse Earth”.
One of the most recent periods of the warming occurred 56 million years ago. At that time, global temperatures rose by 5 to 8 degrees Celsius.
Researcher John Klag and colleagues have now discovered that global temperatures were high enough 90 million years ago to have a forest near the South Pole.
“We didn’t expect to reveal anything like that,” Klag told Newsweek.
Scientists found forest footprints in a sample of sediment they dug on the seabed in northern Antarctica. They noticed that one part of the sample was an unusual color.
“We immediately thought it was something special, and it turned out to be true after two and a half years of analysis,” Klag said.
Sediment analyzes showed that they have a dense network of fossilized roots. They were so well preserved that they could form a cellular structure. Klages said the climate there at the time was probably similar to the rainforest climate in southern New Zealand.
A study published in the scientific journal Nature states that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at that time was higher than previously thought. Scientists say the average air temperature in Antarctica was about 12 degrees Celsius high, reaching 19 degrees Celsius in the summer. The water temperature was 20 degrees Celsius high and higher.
While there is no evidence of the animal species that lived in these forests, there was certainly a great diversity of species there at the time. Probably even dinosaurs lived there.
Scientists are now developing more detailed models that will be based on this finding.