Pollen Study Helps Scientists Understand Antarctic Climate History
30.06.2011 - Ice & Snow, Flora & Fauna, Antarctic
New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the last traces of vegetation in Antarctica might have existed in a tundra landscape until about 12 million years ago. The study features the most detailed reconstruction of the climate history of the Antarctic Peninsula to date.
The findings are of particular interest since the Antarctic Peninsula has been warming significantly in recent decades and the rapid thinning of its glaciers is raising questions about glaciers elsewhere in Antarctica might react in a warming climate.
Antarctica was ice-free and covered in forests some 55 millions years ago; approximately 38 million years ago ice sheets began forming on the continent. After a three-year study of pollen that researchers retrieved from mud in sediment cores, the scientists were able to accurately identify the species of plants that have existed on the peninsula over the past 36 million years. From this pollen record, the researchers were able to gain better insight into the rapid decline of forests about 35 million years ago and the widespread glaciation that took place about 13 million years ago.
The sediment cores used in the study were extracted during the SHALDRIL project, which gave the first reliable age constraints on the timing of ice sheet advance.