Written By: Angela Hu
If you think of Antarctica, you probably think of ice and the occasional penguin. However, the continent was a rainforest when dinosaurs were around.
Scientists have found new evidence of plant materials from under the seafloor. The team of scientists from the UK and Germany drilled a hole into the seafloor and eventually found sediment with a section with a strange color. When they examined it, they found soil with roots, spores, and even ancient pollen from plants such as conifer trees and ferns. They found evidence of 65 different plants in the sediment, published in Nature.
What It Means
This discovery shows that conifer, swampy rainforests similar to those in some areas of New Zealand covered the south pole 92 to 83 million years ago. Additionally, it shows that temperatures were higher than what scientists thought. It had average annual temperatures of 12-13 Celsius, warmer than Germany today. It also had rainfall that is similar to that in Wales.
In the winter near the south pole, there is darkness for four months. This means that these conditions could only exist if carbon dioxide levels were higher than expected to trap heat. Carbon dioxide levels were thought to be around 1,000 parts per million, but are now estimated to around 1,120 and 1,680 ppm. In addition, there were no glaciers in the area within 1000 km of the south pole. Ice would reflect a lot of the light back into space, keeping the region cold. However, the vegetation cover could absorb heat and increase warming.
This discovery shows scientists what carbon dioxide can do. Even without light for 4 months, Antarctica still had such high temperatures. The findings are important in understanding the effects of climate change and show how essential ice sheets are. By the start of the next century, our CO2 levels could be similar to those 90 million years ago. I think that we need to work quickly to reverse the effects of climate change. If we don’t, our planet will look like Antarctica then: vegetated, and with little to no ice.
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