Antarctica was once a tropical paradise

August 2nd, 2012 - 8:07 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 2 (IANS) The chilly continent of Antarctica was once a tropical paradise where palm trees swayed on the green shores, a study has found.

Around 50 million years ago, temperatures in Antarctica soared above 20 degrees Celsius, the Daily Express reported.

To collect proof of the continent’s tropical heritage, scientists undertook an expedition and drilled a kilometre into the ocean floor to collect samples of fossilised pollen that have lain undisturbed for millions of years.

Between 48 and 55 million years ago, high levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere forced up temperatures.

James Bendle, from the University of Glasgow, said the samples were the first detailed evidence of what was happening on the Antarctic.

He said it was a strange contrast to discover the continent’s balmy past amidst “a backdrop of freezing temperatures, huge ocean swells, calving glaciers, snow-covered mountains and icebergs”.

“It’s amazing to imagine a time-traveller, arriving at the same coastline in the early Eocene, could paddle in pleasantly warm waters lapping at a lush forest,” Bendle said.

Pollen found in the sediment cores showed two past environments — one being a lowland, warm rainforest, dominated by tree-ferns, palms and trees, and the other an upland, mountain forest region with beech trees and conifers.

Pollen from both regions would have been washed, blown or transported by insects onto the shallow coastal shelf where it would have settled in the mud and have been preserved for 50 million years.

However, Bendle said the new knowledge of past “greenhouse” conditions will enhance guesses about the effects of increasing CO2 levels today.

It could provide a glimpse of what could be in store for the world in centuries to come if global warming continues unchecked.

The biggest threat lies in the fact that Antarctica today is covered with ice which could potentially raise global sea-levels by 60 metres if the continent once again reached Eocene temperatures, leading to “devastating effects all over the world”.

If temperatures in Antarctica ever became as warm again, sea levels could rise 60 metres, swamping major coastal cities such as New York, Sydney and Hong Kong, the study said.

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