Antarctica Was a Warm Rainforest in the Distant Past

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The word Antarctica will usher into existence a vast desert of ice and snow in the imagination of many people, but it seems that this wasn’t always the case. A team of international researchers has conducted an in-depth study which involved the collection and analysis of a 90 million years old soil sample, and the result has been quite surprising, as Antarctica used to be a warm and swampy rainforest.

During the golden age of dinosaurs, West Antarctica was covered in lush forests and traversed by rivers. The annual temperature reached an average value of 12 degrees Celsius (or 53.6 degrees Fahrenheit) climbing up to 19 degrees Celsius (66.2 degrees Fahrenheit) during the summer. Humidity and rainfall were relative, being on average, with the values present in many lowland areas.

Antarctica used to be a rainforest in the Earth’s early history

A sediment core was extracted with the help of a high-power drill from the Amundsen Sea, located near the west coast of Antarctica. The drill pierced through the ocean floor and encountered an area of forest soil, which was very well preserved.

This specific batch of soil attracted the attention of the researchers since the initial observation took place, as it has a particular color in comparison to the layers which were found above. Their curiosity was boosted by the fact that the soil appeared to have originated from land.

The use of CT scans has revealed a surprising amount of data about the ancient forest soil. Silt and clay were present in abundance, allowing researchers to observe individual cell structures. Pollen and spores from several plants were also identified, proving that flowering plants could be found in Antarctica. A vast network of tree roots was also visible. The researchers wanted to learn why the landscape evolved into the form known today, and a climate model was developed. More information can be found in the study, which was published in a scientific journal.

As our second lead editor, Anna C. Mackinno provides guidance on the stories Great Lakes Ledger reporters cover. She has been instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. If you see a particularly clever title, you can likely thank Anna. Anna received a BA and and MA from Fordham University.