[01 April 2020] An international team of researchers led by geoscientists from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, have now provided a new and unprecedented perspective on the climate history of Antarctica. In a sediment core collected in the Amundsen Sea, West Antarctica, in February 2017, the team discovered pristinely preserved forest soil from the Cretaceous, including a wealth of plant pollen and spores and a dense network of roots. These plant remains confirm that, roughly 90 million years ago, the coast of West Antarctica was home to temperate, swampy rainforests where the annual mean temperature was ca. 12 degrees Celsius – an exceptionally warm climate for a location near the South Pole. The researchers surmise that this warmth was only possible because there was no Antarctic ice sheet and because the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was significantly higher than indicated by climate models to date. The study, which provides the southernmost directly assessable climate and environmental data from the Cretaceous and poses new challenges for climate modellers around the globe, was released today in the journal NATURE.
Johann P. Klages, Ulrich Salzmann, Torsten Bickert, Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Karsten Gohl, Gerhard Kuhn, Steven M. Bohaty, Jürgen Titschack, Juliane Müller, Thomas Frederichs, Thorsten Bauersachs, Werner Ehrmann, Tina van de Flierdt, Patric Simões Pereira, Robert D. Larter, Gerrit Lohmann, Igor Niezgodzki, Gabriele Uenzelmann-Neben, Maximilian Zundel, Cornelia Spiegel, Chris Mark, David Chew, Jane E. Francis, Gernot Nehrke, Florian Schwarz, James A. Smith, Tim Freudenthal, Oliver Esper, Heiko Pälike, Thomas A. Ronge, Ricarda Dziadek, and the Science Team of Expedition PS104: Temperate rainforests near the South Pole during peak Cretaceous warmth. Nature. doi: 10.1038/s41586-020-2148-5.