Ancient Antarctica Was Warm Enough for Vegetation
Ancient Antarctica was much warmer and wetter than previously suspected, a new study has found. The climate was suitable to support substantial vegetation – including stunted trees – along the edges of the frozen continent. By examining plant leaf wax remnants in sediment core samples taken from beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, the research team found summer temperatures along the Antarctic coast 15 to 20 million years ago were 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than today, with temperatures reaching as high as 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Precipitation levels also were found to be several times higher than today.
Scientists began to suspect that high-latitude temperatures during the middle Miocene epoch were warmer than previously believed when co-author Sophie Warny discovered large quantities of pollen and algae in sediment cores taken around Antarctica. Fossils of plant life in Antarctica are difficult to come by because the movement of the massive ice sheets covering the landmass grinds and scrapes away the evidence.