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Antarctica Used to Have Trees & Vegetation

Antarctica Used to Have Trees & Vegetation

By Michael Graham Richard, TreeHugger

What The Past Teaches Us About the Future

Making predictions is hard, especially about the future. But we still have to try, because our best projections, even if they are flawed, are still better than whistling in total darkness. And the best way to make informed projections about the future is to look at the past and see what happened over time when different things happened.

Global warming is one such thing we can learn about by studying the past. There are differences, of course, since in the past most instances of warming took place over much longer periods and were always from natural causes, while now the warming is much faster and is anthropogenic. But there’s still a lot to be learned.

A recent study published in Nature Geoscience looked at Antarctica’s past climate:

“By examining plant leaf wax remnants in sediment core samples taken from beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, the research team found summer temperatures along the Antarctic coast 15 to 20 million years ago were 20 degrees Fahrenheit (11 degrees Celsius) warmer than today, with temperatures reaching as high as 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius). Precipitation levels also were found to be several times higher than today. [...]

The peak of this Antarctic greening occurred during the middle Miocene period, between 16.4 and 15.7 million years ago. This was well after the age of the dinosaurs, which became extinct 64 million years ago. During the Miocene epoch, mostly modern-looking animals roamed Earth, such as three-toed horses, deer, camel and various species of apes. Modern humans did not appear until 200,000 years ago.

Warm conditions during the middle Miocene are thought to be associated with carbon dioxide levels of around 400 to 600 parts per million (ppm). In 2012, carbon dioxide levels have climbed to 393 ppm, the highest they’ve been in the past several million years. At the current rate of increase, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are on track to reach middle Miocene levels by the end of this century.”

That last part is important. This huge warming in Antarctica was believed to have been caused by CO2 levels around 400 to 600 PPM, while we’re currently at 393 PPM. We’re getting close… Of course, there are other factors, but the CO2 composition of the atmosphere certainly is one of the most important ones.

(via Science Daily)

Related:
Edward Norton Calls for Antarctic Marine Reserve
6 Ways Climate Change is Impacting Animals
Penguins in the Wild (Video)

Read more: Environment, Nature, Nature & Wildlife, News & Issues, Travel, , , ,

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74 comments

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11:06AM PDT on Aug 28, 2012

very interesting and somewhat concerning (the CO2 part) thank you

11:49PM PDT on Jul 5, 2012

Well, now I know where Phillipa gets her nonsensical notion of Antarctica's having been up near the equator: Velikovsky's junk science books.

Newsflash, people - Immanuel Velikovsky is NOT a reputable source. The other planets did NOT cause our ice ages, Sodom & Gomorrah, or any other catastrophe on Earth - other than the one that crashed into us during primordial times and created the Moon. And don't even try to say THAT was within human times!

6:37PM PDT on Jul 5, 2012

It's amazing to imagine Antartica nothing beyond stretches of ice and glaciers. I am curious however as to the scientists method of dating the wax on the plants, since they were frozen how could approximate age be measured? All in all, this was still an interesting article I hope leads to more investigation as to how carbon emissions could potentially change our climate.

2:37PM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

"just curious, does this take into account the fact that Antarctica only fairly recently migrated southwards to the South Pole and used to be up near the equator?" - Phillipa W. -

Just curious, where did you read this? Link to a reputable website, please. Because I looked this up and during the Miocene era, Antarctica was where it is today - at the South Pole. It hasn't been anywhere remotely near the equator for a hell of a lot longer than 20 million years!

10:03AM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

Interesting, never knew.

9:27AM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

just curious, does this take into account the fact that Antarctica only fairly recently migrated southwards to the South Pole and used to be up near the equator?

6:12AM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

This is interesting and the earth survived well during that period it must have since it is still here despite Humans.

5:08AM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

So maybe global warming is actually nothing more than an earth correction.

2:33AM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

I have to admit I am quietly glad I lived a normal life with a normal family, went to shool without skipping(unheard of then), then to college all the while learning a good work ethic(chores for allowance money as a child, part-time jobs through college) and manners too, and life was generally good. Now retired I am glad I won't be around to witness the extreme misery to come to all. Yes indeed, Antartica will be green again sans human beings.

2:22AM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

Fascinating.

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