90-million-year-old rainforest discovered near the South Pole

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(ORDO NEWS) — When we imagine the South Pole, most of us imagine the freezing cold that requires heavy duck-down hooded coats to get outside even for a minute.

Intrepid explorers may be ready to venture to the geographic extremes of the South Pole, but for the average person with a less severe physique, traveling there will be a challenge at best and a death sentence at worst.

However, there was a time when Antarctica was not the frozen tundra we know today. About 90 million years ago, according to experts, the temperature was moderate – even very warm.

90 million year old rainforest discovered near the South Pole 2
Polar region about 90 million years ago


Vegetation appeared that had more in common with rainforests than with rare cold-climate shrubs. It is hard to imagine, but once the landscape near the South Pole resembled the Brazilian jungle.

In 2017, a team of researchers from Germany and the UK studied the area near the Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica.

90 million year old rainforest discovered near the South Pole 3

Their findings proved that there were temperate rainforests in this region approximately 145-65 million years ago.

They found evidence of 90-million-year-old vegetation – fossil roots, pollen and spores – that indicate greenery once flourished here.

Fossil roots

The team immediately realized that what they had discovered was rare, as the color of the fossilized roots was markedly different from the layer of sedimentary rocks that covered them.

Luckily, the fossilized roots found were very well preserved, so the samples were taken from the “basic sediment,” as one of the researchers explained.

To explore further, the team used computed tomography (CT) to look deeper into the ground and soil below the surface.

Thanks to the tools used to conduct the study, the scientists were able to create a kind of replica of the vegetation.

They concluded that in order for such vegetation to grow near the South Pole, the summer temperature had to be around 19 degrees Celsius.

The water in this area reached 20 degrees Celsius. Particularly striking is not just the noticeable difference between Antarctica of that time and modern Antarctica, but that the vegetation grew despite being plunged into darkness for four months every year.

The light turned off

This has remained unchanged – polar darkness, during which no sunlight enters the region. Evidence of heavy rainfall in the area has also been found.

The team compared the terrain of that time to some of the swampy, wooded areas of New Zealand today.

At this time – the Cretaceous period – dinosaurs roamed here, and many places looked completely different from what they are today.

Scientists agree that, in general, the world was warmer then. However, these findings came as a surprise to climatologists, paleontologists, and other experts who specialize in the Cretaceous.

The team’s work, like all rigorous scientific research, has raised many more questions to be addressed – questions about climate change, a warming planet, and how some assumptions about climate in certain regions at certain times don’t always stand up to scrutiny.

Ice shelf

Like many other cold regions, the Pine Island Glacier is losing significant amounts of ice as it warms. In 2020, another massive iceberg, roughly the size of Washington DC, broke off and fell into the ocean.

This region is rich in opportunities for further research. However, it is also fragile, prone to the vagaries of a warming planet while supporting a complex ecosystem.

But under the ice and snow, under the low temperatures that reign in Antarctica today, new evidence of the existence of tropical forests is hiding, and scientists and paleontologists continue to explore these depths to learn everything they can about life in this region millions of years ago.


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