Though most people think of Antarctica as frozen tundra, new research is suggesting that it wasn’t always that way. In fact, according to Science Alert, a region around the South Pole might have once played host to a temperate rainforest around 90 million years ago.
Back in 2017, a research expedition drilled deep into the seabed by the western part of Antarctica, close to both the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. Since retrieving the soil samples, scientists have been at work analyzing the data, particularly focusing on the mystery of “unusual” colors in the sediment layer.
The reason for the unexpected color was soon revealed as plant remains. Scientists, however, were surprised that the plant remains were not flora like pine trees or other greenery found in cold climates. Rather, they were plants found in temperate and swampy environments.
In other words, a major region in Antarctica used to be a rainforest.
“During the initial shipboard assessments, the unusual coloration of the sediment layer quickly caught our attention,” explained geologist Johann Klages from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany.
“The first analyses indicated that, at a depth of 27 to 30 meters (88 to 98 ft) below the ocean floor, we had found a layer originally formed on land, not in the ocean.”
The layer contained fossilized plant roots, as well as evidence of pollen and spores.
Despite the clear findings, scientists remained confused at how the plants could survive in a region that received so little sunlight. However, researchers soon came across the answer, thanks to geochemical data in the soil — the atmosphere used to contain substantially more carbon dioxide than originally believed.
“Before our study, the general assumption was that the global carbon dioxide concentration in the Cretaceous was roughly 1,000 parts per million (ppm),” said Torsten Bickert, a geoscientist at the University of Bremen in Germany.
“But in our model-based experiments, it took concentration levels of 1,120 to 1,680 ppm to reach the average temperatures back then in the Antarctic,” he added.
The increased levels of carbon dioxide would have meant that the average temperature in Antarctica would be around 54 degrees Fahrenheit — and the ice sheets that most people associate with the continent would not come to be for millions of years.
While the findings by the South Pole have been exciting to scientists, new research in the North Pole has been less buoyant.
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, climate researchers have discovered a new threat to Greenland’s glaciers in rerouted sea currents from warmer regions. This has lead to an increase in ice thawing and has researchers worrying once more about rising sea levels.