Category Archives: ANTARCTICA

Scientists discover 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica

Scientists discover 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica

Antarctica wasn’t quite a region of ice for most of the year. It is widely believed that millions of years ago, when the planet earth was already a massive landmass called Gondwana, trees flourished near the South Pole.

Now, newfound, intricate fossils of some of these trees are revealing how the plants thrived — and what forests might look like as they march northward in today’s warming world.

“Antarctica preserves and ecologic history of polar biomes that ranges for about 400 million years, which is basically the entirety of plant evolution,” said Erik Gulbranson, a paleoecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

A reconstruction of what the ancient forest look liked 385 million years ago, drawn by Dr. Chris Berry, co-author of the study describing the fossil trees.

TREES IN ANTARCTICA?

It’s hard to look at Antarctica’s frigid landscape today and imagine lush forests. To find their fossil specimens, Gulbranson and his colleagues have to disembark from planes landed on snowfields, then traverse glaciers and brave bone-chilling winds. But from about 400 million to 14 million years ago, the southern continent was a very different, and much greener place.

The climate was warmer, though the plants that survived at the low southern latitudes had to cope with winters of 24-hour-per-day darkness and summers during which the sun never set, just like today.

Gulbranson and his team are focused on an era centred around 252 million years ago, during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction.

Partial tree trunk with the base preserved, at the site in Svalbard (left) and a reconstruction of what the ancient forest look liked 380 million years ago (right)

During this event, as many of 95 per cent of Earth’s species died out. The extinction was probably driven by massive greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes, which raised the planet’s temperatures to extreme levels and caused the oceans to acidify, scientists have found.

There are obvious parallels to contemporary climate change, Gulbranson said, which is less extreme but similarly driven by greenhouse gases.

Prior to the end-Permian mass extinction, the southern polar forests were dominated by one type of tree, those in the Glossopteris genus, Gulbranson told Live Science. These were behemoths that grew from 65 to 131 feet (20 to 40 meters) tall, with broad, flat leaves longer than a person’s forearm, Gulbranson said.

Erik Gulbranson on site in Antarctica.
A photograph taken by Captain Scott on his final expedition of Dr Edward Wilson sketching on Beardmore Glacier.

Before the Permian extinction, Glossopteris dominated the landscape below the 35th parallel south to the South Pole. (The 35th parallel south is a circle of latitude that crosses through two landmasses: the southern tip of South American and the southern tip of Australia.)

BEFORE AND AFTER

Last year, while fossil-hunting in Antarctica, Gulbranson and his team found the oldest polar forest on record from the southern polar region.

They haven’t dated that forest precisely yet, but it probably flourished about 280 million years ago before being rapidly buried in volcanic ash, which preserved it down to the cellular level, the researchers said.

On Thanksgiving Day, Gulbranson will return to Antarctica for more excavations at two sites. Those sites contain fossils from a period spanning from before to after the Permian extinction.

Scientists discover 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica
Scientists have since uncovered further evidence of plant life on the continent, including this fossilized fern from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) fossil collection.
This partial trunk fossil was cracked near its base, but two distinct patterns are still visible in the rock: oval leaf bases at the bottom and diamond-shaped leaf bases moving up the trunk toward the top.

After the extinction, Gulbranson said, the forests didn’t disappear, but they changed. Glossopteris was out, but a new mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, including relatives of today’s gingkoes, moved in.

“What we’re trying to research is what exactly caused those transitions to occur, and that’s what we don’t know very well,” Gulbranson said.

The plants are so well-preserved in the rock that some of the amino acid building blocks that made up the trees’ proteins can still be extracted, said Gulbranson, who specializes in geochemistry techniques. Studying these chemical building blocks may help clarify how the trees handled the southern latitudes’ weird sunlight conditions, as well as the factors that allowed those plants to thrive but drove Glossopteris to its death, he said.

This season, the field team will have access to helicopters, which can land closer to the rugged outcrops in the Transantarctic Mountains where the fossil forests are found.

Subsequent expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula have unearthed hundreds of amphibian and reptile fossils. This lobster fossil (Hoploparia stokesi) from the BAS fossil collection was found in the Upper Cretaceous (100.5 – 66 million years ago) when the dinosaurs disappeared from the Earth.

The team (members hail from the United States, Germany, Argentina, Italy and France) will camp out for months at a time, hitching helicopter rides to the outcrops as the fickle Antarctic weather allows. The 24-hour sun allows for long days, even middle-of-the-night expeditions that combine mountaineering with fieldwork, Gulbranson said.

Large Hidden Lakes Found Draining Below Antarctic Glacier

Large Hidden Lakes Found Draining Below Antarctic Glacier

Thwaites Glacier on the edge of West Antarctica is one of the planet’s fastest-moving glaciers. Research shows that it is sliding unstoppably into the ocean, mainly due to warmer seawater lapping at its underside.

Thwaites Glacier reaches speeds of more than 33 feet (11 m) per day. The black box shows the location of four subglacial lakes that drained in 2013, increasing the glacier’s speed by about 10 percent.

But the details of its collapse remain uncertain. The details are necessary to provide a timeline for when to expect 2 feet of global sea-level rise, and when this glacier’s loss will help destabilize the much larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Recent efforts have used satellites to map the underlying terrain, which affects how quickly the ice mass will move, and measure the glacier’s thickness and speed to understand the physics of its changes.

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Edinburgh used data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 to identify sudden drainage of large pools below Thwaites Glacier, one of two fast-moving glaciers at the edge of the ice sheet.

The study published Feb. 8 in The Cryosphere finds four interconnected lakes drained in the eight months from June 2013 and January 2014. The glacier sped up by about 10 percent during that time, showing that the glacier’s long-term movement is fairly oblivious to trickles at its underside.

The ice surface above the lakes sank by as much as 20 meters (66 feet) in less than a year due to the drainage. Subglacial lakes are commonly seen with fast-flowing glaciers.

“This was a big event, and it confirms that the long-term speed-up that we’re observing for this glacier is probably driven by other factors, most likely in the ocean,” said corresponding author Ben Smith, a glaciologist with the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory. “The water flow at the bed is probably not controlling the speed.”

Other glaciers, like some in Alaska and Greenland, can be very susceptible to changes in meltwater flow. The water there can pond beneath the glacier until it lifts off parts of its bed and suddenly surges forward. This can increase a glacier’s speed by several times and account for most of its motion.

Researchers were not certain whether such an effect might be at play with Thwaites Glacier.

Part of the Thwaites Glacier on the edge of West Antarctica.

“It’s been difficult to see details about water flow under the ice,” Smith said.

A new technique revealed how meltwater from lakes beneath Thwaites Glacier drained into the sea. It is the largest outflow from sub-glacial lakes reported for this region of West Antarctica.

For the new study, the authors use a new technique to discover drops at the glacier’s surface of up to 70 feet (20 meters) over a 20 kilometer by 40-kilometer area. Calculations show it was likely due to the emptying of four interconnected lakes, the largest about the size of Lake Washington, far below.

The peak drainage rate was about 8,500 cubic feet (240 cubic meters) per second, about half the flow of the Hudson River — the largest meltwater outflow yet reported for subglacial lakes in this region.

“This lake drainage is the biggest water movement that you would expect to see in this area, and it didn’t change the glacier’s speed by that much,” Smith said. The reason is likely that Thwaites Glacier is moving quickly enough, he said, that friction is heating up its underside to ice’s melting point. The glacier’s base is already wet and adding more water doesn’t make it much more slippery.

The new study supports previous UW research from 2014 showing that Thwaites Glacier will likely collapse within 200 to 900 years to cause seas to rise by 2 feet. Those calculations were made without detailed maps of how water flows at the glacier’s underbelly. The new results suggest that doesn’t really matter.

“If Thwaites Glacier had really jumped in response to this lake drainage, then that would have suggested that we need a more detailed model of where water is flowing at the bed,” Smith said. “Radar data from NASA’s Operation Ice Bridge program has told us a lot about the shape of Thwaites Glacier, but it’s very difficult to see how water is moving. Based on this result, that may not be a big problem”

Melting at the ice sheet base would refill the lakes in 20 to 80 years, Smith said. Over time meltwater gradually collects in depressions in the bedrock. When the water reaches a certain level it breaches a weak point, then flows through channels in the ice. As Thwaites Glacier thins near the coast, its surface will become steeper, Smith said, and the difference in ice pressure between inland regions and the coast may push water coastward and cause more lakes to drain.

He hopes to apply the same techniques to study lake drainage below other glaciers, to understand how water flow at the base affects overall glacier movement. When NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite launches in 2018 the calculations will be easy to do with high precision.

“In 2018 this changes from a hard project to an easy project, and I’m excited about that,” Smith said.

Other co-authors are Alexander Huth and Ian Joughin at the UW and Noel Gourmelen at the University of Edinburgh. The research was funded by NASA and the European Space Agency.

The Mystery Behind the “Rare Emerald Icebergs” of Antarctica

The Mystery Behind the “Rare Emerald Icebergs” of Antarctica

For decades, the sight of bottle-green icebergs in the Antarctic has captivated polar travellers and scientists. The mysterious phenomena have intrigued many journals, but the “why for their presence has remained enigmatic. Today scientists have suggested a new theory of why these jade bergs are happening, and if verified, a decades-long enigma will be solved.

During an Australian expedition in 1988, the search to discover the secret of the green monoliths started when glaciologist Stephen Warren from the University of Washington climbed up on one to get a better look at it.

“What is most amazing is not their colour but rather their clarity, because they have no bubbles,” said Warren to IFLScience.

Ordinary icebergs, on the other hand, originate as snow and “as the snow is compressed under its own weight into ice, the air in the snow is closed off as bubbles. So glacier ice contains numerous bubbles, and icebergs are bright and cloudy.”

The emerald ice, however, has no bubbles, suggesting it is not ordinary glacier ice. Warren took a core sample from a glacier near East Antarctica’s Amery Ice Shelf and compared it to other green ice samples from Australian expeditions in the 1980s. He found that the clear jade colouration was due to marine ice, not glacier ice.

Most icebergs seen by sailors in Antarctica are white or blue, some are even striped.

Green is a rarity. At first, Warren’s team suspected impurities in the ocean water beneath were transforming the ice green, perhaps from the trapped microscopic particles of dead marine plants and animals. But a sample of the ice proved their theory wrong: green and blue marine ice have similar amounts of organic material. 

Researchers on top of a large composite iceberg in October 1996.
Researchers on top of a large composite iceberg in October 1996.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that Warren was inspired to have another go at an idea. His inspiration was born from research by oceanographer Laura Herraiz-Borreguero at the University of Tasmania, who found that the Amery Ice Shelf core had nearly 500 times more iron than the glacial ice above.

He wondered if it was possible iron oxides are turning the common blue hue of ice a dark green. If so, where was the iron coming from? These compounds are scarce in many regions of the ocean.

Warren believes the answer may lie in “glacial flour” – the powder formed from glaciers grinding over bedrock, eroding particles from the surface. These iron-rich particles then flow into the ocean and become caught under an ice shelf, where they mingle with the marine ice as it forms.

The finding could play a role in sustaining life in the oceans. Iron is a key nutrient for the microscopic plants upon which many other organisms rely. If the green icebergs are shuttling iron from Antarctica’s mainland to the Southern Ocean, it could be a crucial process to marine life.

“Iron is the limiting nutrient for phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean, so the biological oceanographers are keen to quantify the various sources of iron,” said Warren, whose study is published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans. 

“Phytoplankton are the base of the food chain in the Southern Ocean. The photosynthesis by this phytoplankton also removes CO2 from the atmosphere, so they are important in the global carbon cycle.

With global warming, if the ocean water flowing in under the ice shelf becomes warmer, then probably less marine ice will form, and less iron will be delivered to the phytoplankton.”

To confirm their hypothesis, the team recommend further analysis of short cores from icebergs to measure dissolved organic carbon and particulate organic carbon versus depth, as well as the mineralogy of the iron. 

In the future, Warren, Herraiz-Borreguero, and her advisor Delphine Lannuzel hope to work together to sample icebergs for iron and measure their reflectance spectra.

This Green Iceberg was spotted on February 16th, 1985, in Antarctica.

Ancient pyramid discovered in Antarctica

Ancient pyramid discovered in Antarctica

Three ancient pyramids have been discovered in Antarctica by a team of American and European scientists.

Two of the pyramids were “supposedly” discovered about 16 kilometers inland, while the third would be very close to the coast.

The first images of the pyramids between the ice, appeared in the Western media a year after their discovery, circumstances indicate that there may be evidence that the South Pole in the past had been quite warm to be inhabited by ancient and flourishing civilizations.

So far little is known about the pyramids, the team of explorers continues to maintain silence about the discovery.

The only reliable information provided by scientists was that they were planning an expedition to investigate and determine with certainty if the structures were of synthetic or natural origin, but to date has been disclosed yet no official confirmation.

If the researchers were able to show that the pyramids are of artificial origin, their findings could lead to a bigger and shocking review of the history of humanity.

Always in Antarctica, in 2009, scientists founded the particles of pollen in the atmosphere, a discovery that would lead to the hypothesis that once grew there palm trees and summer temperatures could reach at least 21°C.

Three years later, in 2012, scientists at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada have identified 32 species of bacteria in water samples of Lake Vida in East Antarctica.

It is difficult to believe that 50 million years ago palm trees thrived on today’s icy coasts of Antarctica.

The question then arises: is it possible that Antarctica was once warm enough so as to hosting an ancient civilization? But above all, in addition to the pyramids, what is hidden beneath that ice?

So the dilemma that still does not give us peace is: who, or what has created these pyramids in Antarctica? It is a pure invention, three mountains of natural origin, or of a disturbing reality?

Fossil Forest Unearthed in the Arctic

Scientist Unearths a Colony of Mummified Penguins in Antarctica

Scientist Unearths a Colony of Mummified Penguins in Antarctica

Steven Emslie was finishing a season in January 2016 of researching Penguin colonies near the Antarctica-based Italian station Zucchelli. With the austral Summer quickly coming to a close and all planned work completed, Dr. Emslie, an ornithologist at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, did what any good scientist would do with a few extra days in the Antarctic: He went exploring.

On a rocky cape along the Scott Coast, he heard talk of penguin guano, but he knew no active colonies there. Curious, he arranged and searched around for a helicopter flight to the area and had a look around.

“Because over a hundred years ago Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton had visited the region and had not written about any penguins on this particular site, I did not expect to see anything because they were writing about the penguins often when they saw them,” he said.

And yet, Dr. Emslie immediately knew he had stumbled upon something intriguing when he arrived. “There were pebbles everywhere,” he recalled.

While pebbles are an everyday find on other continents, it is rare to spot them in abundance on dry land in Antarctica. A key exception is found in Adélie penguin colonies, as the birds collect the small stones from the beaches to build their nests.

The pebbles had been gathered together into nests and recently been dispersed a bit by the weather. Then Dr. Emslie saw the guano. There was a lot of dried penguin waste creating iconic white stains on the nearby rocks. Then he found the penguin corpses.

Due to the warming climate, the ice preserving the penguin corpses melted away and revealed the bodies of penguins from an ancient colony.

With feathers still intact and flesh having barely decayed, Dr. Emslie was stunned.

“I remember thinking, wow, a penguin colony that even Shackleton didn’t know about,” he said.

The shock gave way to further curiosity and led him to wonder what could possibly have befallen the colony. Fascinated, he collected some remains and took them back for carbon-dating analysis to work out when the birds had died.

With dates of death that ranged from 800 to 5,000 years ago, Dr. Emslie immediately realized that the guano, feathers, bones, and pebbles had all been locked in place under layers of ice for centuries and that the “freshly dead” penguins were in fact recently defrosted mummies that had been swallowed by advancing snowfields long ago.

Scott and Shackleton could be forgiven for not spotting this colony as it had been entirely hidden from view when the explorers had been in the region.

A mummified Adélie penguin chick, discovered under melted ice in Antarctica.

The find paints a picture of a site that, after experiencing periodic Adélie penguin occupation over thousands of years, saw that occupation come to an abrupt end approximately 800 years ago.

Dr. Emslie speculates in the journal Geology. where he reported his findings in mid-September, that cooling temperatures drove a type of sea ice to form along the coast that persisted well into summer months. Known as “fast ice” because it “fastens” to the coastline, this sea ice makes it very difficult for penguins to gain access to beaches and prevents them from colonizing places where it occurs.

He said he thought the ice forced the colony to be abandoned but also suggested that warming temperatures might change things in the years ahead.

With Antarctic ice melting and sea levels rising, established penguin colonies are being forced to disperse to new places. Dr. Emslie suggests that the penguins could then return to sites like this one.

“They need pebbles for their nests, so they are going to find all the pebbles that are already on the land at this site very attractive,” he said. “I would not be surprised to see them make this place their home again in the near future.”

Other penguin experts agree.

“We always thought Adélie penguins carried a strong impulse to return to the nesting sites they were born at year after year but, as several catastrophic ice collapses have shown us recently, they are actually pretty adaptable,” said David Ainley, a penguin ecologist at H.T. Harvey & Associates, an ecological consulting firm.

“We’ve seen that Adélies will roam the coast in small flocks and, if they find a promising-looking site like this one, they will make it their home,” he said.

600 million-year-old fossils of tiny humanoids found in Antarctica

600 million-year-old fossils of tiny humanoids found in Antarctica

In the rocky terrain of the Whitmore mountain range in Antarctica there have been found fossilized skeletal remains of what seems to be extremely small humans.

Tiny fossilized skeletons were found in the Whitmore mountain range

Interestingly enough, this discovery was made while yours truly was in Antarctica on assignment for The National Reporter to debunk a ridiculous tabloid story about a UFO base in the area.    

While investigating this silly story with several colleagues, we happened upon a group of paleontologists who were searching for evidence that dinosaurs had once roamed the Antarctic continent before it tore loose from Africa and South America and drifted southward to its present location.

Top; Basecamp with National Reporter tent in the foreground. Bottom; Star reporter Ace Flashman walking with his investigative team.

What they found instead astonished them, not only because of what it was but because of its age.

“We tested the fossils and have determined without a shadow of a doubt that they are at least 600 million years old.” Doctor Marly of Cambridge University told us. 

“600 million years ago, jellyfish first appeared. There were no human beings in the world and there wouldn’t be any for nearly five hundred and 60 million years. There weren’t even any dinosaurs around at that time.”

“The first skeleton we found was hidden within the layers of a large piece of sedimentary rock that we had broken loose from the mountainside.
We knew that it would most likely  contain some fossils because of its type and age.” Dr.Marly explained.

“When we split the rock apart we were completely confused.  Here was this fossil from an age when the appearance of the first vertebrates was still millions of years off and it was a complete skeleton. And not only that, it appeared to be human.”    

The first fossilized skeleton they found was less than a foot tall.

“The second skeleton was a very good specimen, Unlike the first one, the second skeleton was in a fully extended position with excellent detail.” Dr. Marly told us.

“It is quite obvious from our study of these skeletons that they are definitely human and not a species of primate.  Who they were and how large their population was and if they were technologically advanced is a complete mystery.”

The second tiny skeleton was very well-preserved and showed quite a bit of detail.

The fossils have been flown to the National Institute of ancient studies in Washington DC  for further analysis.

The National Reporter will be doing a follow-up report on this amazing discovery within the next few months. 

The National Reporter would also like to stress to our readers that these tiny fossilized humanoid skeletons are not the remains of extraterrestrial aliens as we expect the tabloids will be reporting it when the news breaks.

If you encounter any stories of these fossils that claim they are extra-terrestrial in origin, please ignore them.

Antarctica exposed: Very unusual 90 million-year-old dinosaur discovery made after the scan

Antarctica exposed: Very unusual 90 million-year-old dinosaur discovery made after the scan

The group, which included researchers from Imperial College London, explored fossilized remains 30 meters below west Antarctica’s ice for 90 million years.

A study of preserved roots pollen and spores revealed that the environment at that time was much warmer than previously thought. Led by geoscientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, their work suggests summer averages in this Cretaceous environment would have been in the 20Cs (68Fs).

Their findings, published in the journal Nature online, suggests Antarctica once had a thriving rainforest.

ANTARCTICA scientists made a “very unusual” discovery dating back 90 million years to the time when dinosaurs roamed the icy continent.

A video announcing the finds, detailed earlier this month: “A mission to the Antarctic has revealed fossilized plant roots preserved deep under the ocean since the time of the dinosaurs.

“It seems this freezing landscape was once home to a lush forest.

“Johann Klages and his team set out on a ship with a special drill to extract a core of material stretching down 30 meters into the seafloor.

“Studying the core, including analysis of fossilized pollen and spores, is revealing more about the environment of this ancient rainforest.

“This was one of the warmest periods in Earth’s history, with carbon dioxide levels several times higher than they are today.”

Dr. Klages explained how the team took a CT scan of what they found.

He said: “90 million years ago, a temperate rainforest existed in West Antarctica, only 900km away from the South Pole.

“When we extracted the core, we could already see what was inside and that it was very unusual, therefore we decided to scan them in a CT scanner back home.

“What we see here is an overview of the CT-scanned core and the yellow strata that we see is the sandstone, and now we transition into the network of fossil roots, and we can nicely see how the roots are connected with each other and are pristinely preserved.

“We have thin roots, we have thick roots and it’s really a network as you would get in a forest near you if you drilled down.”

Dr. Klages said that it is likely dinosaurs would have roamed the continent more than 90 million years ago.

He added: “It revealed a very warm temperature for this latitude and annual mean temperatures that are similar to those of northern Italy.

“It would be very certain that also dinosaurs and insects lived in that environment and in an environment that was dark for about four months during the year because we have the polar light.

“These extreme greenhouse climates are important for us to understand in full detail because it allows us to look into the future of how the planet will look if we excessively emit CO2 as we do now.”

Evidence of 90-million-year-old rainforest uncovered beneath the Antarctic ice

Evidence of 90-million-year-old rainforest uncovered beneath the Antarctic ice

The well-preserved rainforest seeds, pollens and spores of 90 million year old (mid-cretaceous) rainforest plants in Western Antarctica have been discovered by an international team of paleontologists and geologists.

Reconstruction of the West Antarctic mid-Cretaceous temperate rainforest. The painting is based on paleofloral and environmental information inferred from palynological, geochemical, sedimentological and organic biomarker data obtained from cores at the site of PS104_20-2, Antarctica.

The mid-Cretaceous period (115 million to 80 million years ago) was the heyday of the dinosaurs but was also the warmest period in the past 140 million years, with temperatures in the tropics as high as 35 degrees Celsius and sea level 170 m higher than today.

However, little was known about the environment south of the Antarctic Circle at this time.

Professor Tina van of Flierdt, a professor at the Departments of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, said “The survival of this 90 million-year-old forest is remarkable but even more surprising is the world that 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.”

The evidence for the Antarctic forest comes from a core of sediment drilled at the site of PS104_20-2 (73.57°S, 107.09°W; 946 m water depth) near the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica.

One section of the core, that would have originally been deposited on land, caught the scientists’ attention with its strange color.

“During the initial shipboard assessments, the unusual coloration of the sediment layer quickly caught our attention; it clearly differed from the layers above it,” said Dr. Johann Klages, a geologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.

The team CT-scanned the section of the core and discovered an intact 3-m-long network of fossil roots, which was so well preserved that they could make out individual cell structures.

The 90-million-year-old 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.

“The numerous plant remains indicate that 93 to 83 million years ago the coast of West Antarctica was a swampy landscape in which temperate rainforests grew — similar to the forests that can still be found, say, on New Zealand’s South Island,” said Professor Ulrich Salzmann, a paleoecologist at Northumbria University.

Example microscopic images from thin sections of 90-million-year-old fossil roots: (a) overview scan of root fragment with indicated locations of detailed microscopic images (b-e); white arrows indicate the locations of preserved parenchyma storage cells, including potential aerenchyma gas exchange cells (d). Scale bar in (d) applies to (b-e).

To reconstruct the environment of this preserved forest, the researchers assessed the climatic conditions under which the plants’ modern descendants live, as well as analyzing temperature and precipitation indicators within the sample.

They found that the annual mean air temperature was around 12 degrees Celsius. Average summer temperatures were around 19 degrees Celsius; water temperatures in the rivers and swamps reached up to 20 degrees.

They conclude that 90 million years ago the Antarctic continent was covered with dense vegetation, there were no land-ice masses on the scale of an ice sheet in the South Pole region, and the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was far higher than previously assumed for the mid-Cretaceous period.

“Before our study, the general assumption was that the global carbon dioxide concentration in the Cretaceous was roughly 1,000 ppm,” Dr. Klages said.

“But in our model-based experiments, it took concentration levels of 1,120 to 1,680 ppm to reach the average temperatures back then in the Antarctic.”