New research has shown that Antarctica’s stunning glacial landscapes were once temperate rainforests, and the continent was regularly burned down by wildfires around 75 million years ago.
Based on an analysis of fossilized charcoal from James Ross Island, near the northeastern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, Brazilian researchers discovered last month that Antarctica was once home to a temperate rainforest with a diverse set of plants and trees. Those who burned regularly, according to their findings, published in the journal Polar Research, with fragments of recovered charcoal belonging to ancient conifers called Araucariaceae.
Forest fires burned across the continent during the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, researchers say. The Cretaceous is also a âwell-known worldwide period of intense fire,â they wrote. âNatural forest fires – caused by lightning, fireballs, sparks, and volcanic activity – were a regular occurrence throughout geological time. “
âThe large forest fires directly affected plant communities,â they added.
At the time, Antarctica was part of Gondwana, a former supercontinent in the southern hemisphere that began to separate into what is now Antarctica, Africa, South America, Australia and the Arabian Peninsula about 180 million years ago.
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This is not the first time that research has suggested that Antarctica was once a soft, tree-lined landscape plagued by forest fires, and a 2020 article in the British scientific journal Nature found evidence that “temperate humid forests” existed near the South Pole during the Cretaceous Period.
Given that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached around 1,000 parts per million during the Middle Cretaceous period, “it is disputed that polar ice could exist under such environmental conditions,” the researchers wrote at the era.
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