It’s hard to imagine Antarctica as anything other than a freezing lifeless landscape, but that wasn’t always the case. Now, an international team has recovered a 90-million-year old soil sample that paints the most detailed picture of ancient Antarctica ever found, revealing a swampy rainforest and balmy temperatures.
According to the study, during the peak of the Age of the Dinosaurs, West Antarctica was covered in dense vegetation, rivers and swamps. The annual average air temperature was around 12 °C (53.6 °F), and during summer that average went up to a pleasant 19 °C (66.2 °F). Rainfall amounts and intensity were similar to the lowlands of places like Wales.
The researchers made this startling discovery by studying a sediment core drilled from deep beneath the ocean floor, in the Amundsen Sea off the west coast of Antarctica. A certain section appeared to be extremely well-preserved forest soil.
“During the initial shipboard assessments, the unusual coloration of the sediment layer quickly caught our attention; it clearly differed from the layers above it,” says Johann Klages, first author of the study. “Moreover, the first analyses indicated that, at a depth of 27 to 30 m (88.6 to 98.4 ft) below the ocean floor, we had found a layer originally formed on land, not in the ocean.”