A drilling operation being carried out on the Antarctica seabed has found a rainforest over 52 million years old, with scientists predicting that the remnants of the frozen discovery could be free from ice again in just decades.
The drilling was taking place to study sediment cores on the ocean bed, just of Antarctica’s eastern coast, when it found fossil pollens that were identified as coming from an ancient ‘near tropical’ forest, which would have covered the continent within the Eocene period, up to 56 million years ago.
The scientists showed that the molecules in the pollens had shown that the rainforest would have been around 20 degrees C and that the temperature would have remained warm and very much ice-free! Of course, this is in direct contrast to our view of Antarctica today, so somewhat surprising!
The major driver of this warmth is thought to have been elevated levels of CO2, estimated between 990 parts per million to ‘several thousand’. The current carbon dioxide measurement is just under 400ppm and some predictions believe that ice will recede again on Antarctica by the century’s close.
The scientists explained that exact determinations on this were hard, as CO2 levels are so controlled by individual actions and government control. Yet the implications of this region de-icing are severe -even a few metres of increase in the sea’s level from melting ice would see large areas of coastal land across the world inundated and made uninhabitable – many of which are heavily populated today.
The discovery has caused a lot of interest and it is hoped that it will also continue the debate on best approaches to save the rainforest and give way to further action to do so.