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Scientists Have Unearthed Traces of an Ancient Rainforest In... Antarctica

In 2017, researchers aboard the RV Polarstern drilled through and pulled up sediment from the ocean off the coast of Antarctica. When they examined the core, they were surprise to find a layer of a very different color at about 30 meters down. Geologist Johann Klages from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, describes the discovery.

"The first analyses indicated that, at a depth of 27 to 30 metres (88 to 98 ft) below the ocean floor, we had found a layer originally formed on land, not in the ocean."

They were in uncharted territory, in more ways than one. Nobody had ever pulled a Cretaceous Period sample out of the ground from such a southern point on the globe. Even so, the researchers can't have been prepared for what closer examination with X-ray computed tomography (CT) scans would reveal.

Back on land, scans described an intricate network of fossilised plant roots. Microscopic analyses also found evidence of pollen and spores, all pointing to the preserved remains of an ancient rainforest that existed in Antarctica approximately 90 million years ago, eons before the landscape was transformed into a barren province of ice.

The find was surprising, as plate tectonics calculations put the sample even closer to the South Pole than it is today. The next step is to figure out how Antarctica was warm enough to support such an environment 90 million years ago. One theory says it had to do with the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Read about the discovery at ScienceAlert. -via Damn Interesting

(Image credit: Alfred-Wegener-Institut/James McKay/CC-BY-4.0)


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