In 2010, after drilling into the Antarctic, a team of scientists from all over the world discovered that 50 million years ago Antarctica was covered, not with ice, but with a lush tropical rainforest. Their paper, published this month, can be found here.
The study of sediment cores, along Antarctica’s east coast, revealed fossilized pollens that had come from a near-tropical forest that had once covered the now frigid content, today.
These scientists conjecture that the significantly higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 50 million years ago, lead to the much higher temperatures which allowed for such a forest to exist on Antarctica. Compared to today’s estimated global average of Atmospheric CO2 levels at 395 parts per million (PPM), scientists believe that at the time of Antarctica’s rainforest, CO2 levels were over a thousand PPM.
Another part of why Antarctica’s climate was so different over fifty million years ago may be because of the warm water currents which are said to have flowed around the continent at that time. When the currents shifted and colder currents replaced the warmer, Antarctica’s climate may also have shifted.
This research gives us a more robust knowledge-base of the natural processes inherent in climate change. As we learn more about how climate change may have affected the antarctic in the past, we will have a better idea of what to expect from climate change into the future.