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90 million years ago, Antartica was covered with a lush rainforest

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90 million years ago, Antartica was covered with a lush rainforest

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It’s hard to image the icy Antarctic as a lush rainforest, but that’s what it was almost 90 million years ago, a time when dinosaurs freely roamed the earth. 

The discovery was made based on a sediment buried 25 meters under the seafloor off Pine Island Glacier, according to a study published on Wednesday in Nature. The fossils found preserved in an ultra-rare core represent the first glimpse of Cretaceous (last period of the Mesozoic era) ecosystems just 500 miles from the South Pole.

Lead author Johann Klages, a geologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research states, “It is definitely the southernmost Cretaceous evidence ever recovered on the planet”

In 2017, the core was obtained by Klages and his colleagues. The specialised drilling machine used in the extraction procedure which penetrated the sea floor took several days to pull out each new core. The last three-meter core was retrieved before Klages and his colleagues had to evacuate the area, due to an advancing ice sheet from a nearby island that threatened to slice the cord between the drill and the vessel.

Examination of this core, which was dark in colour suggesting it was rich in organic materials, further revealed further details about the rainforest that once covered Antartica.

The study of the plant fossils revealed that the ecosystem may have consisted of conifer trees that resemble the rainforests of modern New Zealand. While speaking to Vice, Klages also said it was possible that dinosaurs and insects inhabited the rainforest. The location of the forest (southern latitude of 82°) also means it would have been engulfed in total darkness for approximately four months of each year. 

During the long black winter, the ecosystem may have gotten its fuel from the extraordinarily high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, on which the forest would have survived till the sunlight returned.

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