Declining CO2 levels helped in Antarctic formation 34 million years ago

September 14th, 2009 - 12:45 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, September 14 (ANI): In a major research study, the link between declining carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the earth’s atmosphere and the formation of the Antarctic ice caps some 34 million years ago has been confirmed for the first time.

The research was carried out by a team of scientists from Cardiff, Bristol and Texas A and M universities, in a small East African village, where they extracted microfossils in samples of rocks which show the level of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere at the time of the formation of the ice-cap.

Geologists have long speculated that the formation of the Antarctic ice-cap was caused by a gradually diminishing natural greenhouse effect.

The study’s findings confirm that atmospheric CO2 declined during the Eocene - Oligocene climate transition and that the Antarctic ice sheet began to form when CO2 in the atmosphere reached a tipping point of around 760 parts per million (by volume).

According to Professor Paul Pearson from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, who led the mission to the remote East Africa village of Stakishari, “About 34 million years ago, the Earth experienced a mysterious cooling trend. Glaciers and small ice sheets developed in Antarctica, sea levels fell and temperate forests began to displace tropical-type vegetation in many areas.”

“The period, known to geologists as the Eocene - Oligocene transition, culminated in the rapid development of a continental-scale ice sheet on Antarctica, which has been there ever since,” he said.

“We therefore set out to establish whether there was a substantial decline in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as the Antarctic ice sheet began to grow,” he added.

The team mapped large expanses of bush and wilderness and pieced together the underlying local rock formations using occasional outcrops of rocks and stream beds.

Eventually, they discovered sediments of the right age near a traditional African village called Stakishari.

By assembling a drilling rig and extracting hundreds of meters of samples from under the ground, they were able to obtain exactly the piece of Earth’s history they had been searching for.

According to co-author Dr Gavin Foster from the University of Bristol Earth Sciences Department, “By using the rather unique set of samples from Tanzania and a new analytical technique that I developed, we have, for the first time, been able to reconstruct the concentration of CO2 across the Eocene-Oligocene boundary - the time period about 34 million years ago when ice sheets first started to grow on Eastern Antarctica.” (ANI)

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