Roots: Antarctica Edition

April 2, 2020


Scientists drilling off the coast of West Antarctica have found the fossil remains of forests that grew in the region 90 million years ago – in the time of the dinosaurs. 

Their analysis of the material indicates the continent back then would have been as warm as parts of Europe are today but that global sea levels would have been over 100m higher than at present. 

The research, led from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Germany, is published in the journal Nature

It’s emerged from an expedition in 2017 to recover marine sediments in Pine Island Bay.

AWI and its partners, including the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), used a novel cassette drill-mechanism called MeBo to extract core material some 30m under the seafloor. 

When the team examined the sediments in the lab, it found traces of ancient soils and pollen and even tree roots.

The interpretation is that this sector of West Antarctica, in the geological period known as the Cretaceous, featured temperate rainforest and swamp conditions – the kind of vegetation you will find on New Zealand’s South Island today. 

“We have a really nice X-ray movie through the sediment core,” said AWI’s Prof Karsten Gohl, who spearheaded the expedition on Germany’s Research Vessel Polarstern.

“It’s like we’ve drilled into a modern swamp environment and you’re seeing the living root system, small plant particles and pollen – but this is all preserved from 90 million years ago. It’s amazing.”

Modelling work suggests average annual temperatures in this Cretaceous environment would have been in the mid-teens Celsius; summer averages would have been in the 20s.(C)

But the vegetation must have been pretty special because, being so far south, it would have had to endure three to four months of polar darkness.

3 Responses to “Roots: Antarctica Edition”

  1. Sir Charles Says:

    The race is on…

    • J4Zonian Says:

      In fact the situation is at least twice as bad as that. We need to eliminate at least 90% of fossil fuel use in the next 10 years (and make similar progress on other fronts like ag, forestry, industry) or we face exponentially rising risk of being unable to implement solutions at al.

      The need to act quickly and massively has been made so much more clear by this first of what will no doubt be numerous plagues over the next century. It’s exactly why I’ve been relentlessly pushing for faster action; to beat the onset of the harsher world ahead that will make everything much more difficult.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    Pretty obvious this strata was produced 4000 years ago by Noah’s flood. Silly scientists.

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