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Rainforests near the South Pole? It may sound far-fetched, but new research indicates the Antarctic climate was much warmer some 90 million years ago.
The teacm of British and German scientists examinded forest soil from the Cretaceous period within 559 miles of the South Pole and analyzed the preserved roots, pollen and spores within the soil.
“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,” co-author Tina van de Flierdt, from the Department of Earth Science Engineering at Imperial College London, said in a statement.
The work, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, challenges some of the climate models of the mid-Cretaceous period, which was about 115 to 80 million years ago, by suggesting that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were higher than previously thought.
Illustration of the Antarctic rainforest.
The mid-Cretaceous is known as the warmest period on Earth over the last 140 million years, with sea levels about 330 to 660 feet higher than today.
Scientists examined a core of sediment drilled into the seabed near the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica.
After conducting a CT scan of a section of the core, researchers found a dense network of fossil roots, which was very well preserved. The sample also contained countless traces of pollen and spores from plants, including the first remnants of flowering plants ever found at these high Antarctic latitudes.
To get these conditions, scientists believe that 90 million years ago the Antarctic continent was covered with vibrant and dense vegetation, there were no land-ice masses on the scale of an ice sheet in that region, and the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was much higher than previously assumed.