We all know Antarctica; freezing cold and home sweet home of the beloved penguin. But what if we told you that this wasn't always the case? Science researchers have taken us on a magic carpet ride to show us a whole new (or old) world.
Recent discoveries have unlocked the secret past of the South Pole, revealing a dense rainforest in the place of ice masses... polar opposites (pun intended)! The Antarctic rainforest dates back 90 million years, placing it in the Cretaceous period.
The evidence of this natural phenomenon was found by drilling a core of sediment from the seabed near Pine Island in West Antarctica. Scientists were particularly interested in a section of the core that was an unusual colour. This section was CT scanned, unveiling dense networks of fossil roots, as well as pollen and spore traces from plants at this time. These were so well-preserved that they could also analyse individual cell structure.
Analysis of the roots showed that during this period, Antarctica would have been covered with dense vegetation, swamps and rivers. It's incredible to think that this kind of habitat could thrive in this part of the world, despite spending a third of the year in complete darkness!
Using these models, scientists estimated that temperatures would have averaged 12 degrees Celsius, reaching 19 degrees Celsius, on average, in the summer. This means that the ice would have been replaced with swamps and rivers that could reach up to 20 degrees Celcius. The lack of ice takes sea level 170m higher than modern levels.
This new study challenges the climate models we had of this period. It now shows that the Cretaceous period was a lot warmer than previously thought. This new model also suggests that CO2 levels were also a lot higher. It was previously assumed that global CO2 concentration was around 1000ppm (compared to today's concentration of 412ppm). In new model-based experiments, they now think it was between 1120-1680ppm.
Taking this into account, while humans will be contributing to the increase in CO2 concentrations, this also fluctuates naturally. It will be interesting to continue researching into the history of Earth's climate to get a more complete picture of climate change and to what extent humans can control the rate of change.
On a lighter note, we would love to see your ideas of what kind of animals and plants might exist in an Antarctic rainforest! Get creative and send your ideas to our social media for your chance to be featured.