Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar & Marine Research, geoscientists from Germany, and researchers from the Imperial College London discovered evidence that rainforests existed during the Cretaceous period in Antarctica. The research team collected a piece from the seafloor in the Amundsen Sea during February and March in 2017. The study was published on Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 in the journal Nature.
“The preservation of this 90-million-year-old forest is exceptional, but even more surprising is the world it reveals. Even during months of darkness, swampy temperate rainforests were able to grow close to the South Pole, revealing an even warmer climate than we expected,” said Tina van de Flierdt, a professor from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering from the Imperial College London.
The sediment core contained samples of pollen, spores, and tree roots that were very well preserved; the researchers could classify cell structures.
“During the initial shipboard assessments, the unusual coloration of the sediment layer quickly caught our attention; it clearly differed from the layers above it, we had found a layer originally formed on land, not in the ocean,” said Johann Klages, a geologist from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.
Despite one-third of the year without sun, CO2 levels were exceptionally high so the Antarctic vegetation could still grow. Initially, the CO2 levels were thought to be 1000 ppm during the Cretaceous period, but the study revealed that it must’ve been around 1120 to 1680 to support such high temperatures.
The average daytime temperature would’ve been around 53 degrees Fahrenheit during the Cretaceous period. Current temperatures in Antarctica are now approximately -76 degrees to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The Antarctic ice sheet was non-existent at that time and the average temperature of the rivers and swamps would’ve been 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
During the summer, the temperature was possibly 66 degrees Fahrenheit and the average rainfall would have been 97 inches every year. Even though the temperatures were so high 90 million years ago, scientists still haven’t figured out how Antarctica turned into the frozen tundra it is today.
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