Scientists are certain that a massive melting of Antarctica would spell disaster globally. If all of the ice in Antarctica were to melt, the sea levels would increase by an estimated 200 feet. Needless to say this level would destroy life as we know on this planet. Despite the potential impacts of glacial melting in Antarctica, scientists are still attempting to grasp the workings of region, including what is driving melting there.
A study evaluating the ancient climate conditions of Antarctica was recently published in the journal Nature. Scientists drilled into the Antarctic and managed to extract spores, pollen and preserved remnants of an organism referred to as Archaea. The samples date back to the Eocene period, which occurred 56 to 34 million years ago.
During the Eocene period many of the continents we know today were skewed, but Antarctica is one which is in the same relative location then and now. However, the climate impacting Antarctica and the globe was quite different, although conditions could expand our knowledge of what issues could occur with climate change as the world warms.
During the Eocene, scientists estimate that carbon dioxide levels were equal to or greater than 600 parts per million. Our current carbon dioxide concentration is quickly nearing 400 ppm, currently at an estimated 396 ppm. Scientists estimate that the globe was 5 degrees Celsius warmer than it currently is under the Eocene conditions. According to the study, Antarctica appears to have had temperatures greater than 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) during the winter and summer months likely were 25 degrees Celsius (77F) or above.
Co-author of the study James Bendle, from the University of Glasgow, stated: “The more we get that information, the more it seems that the models we’re using now are not overestimating the change over the next few centuries, and they may be underestimating it. That’s the essential message.” The team’s research will likely contribute to more exacting climate models in the future.
Alongside the temperature data, the team also determined that Antarctic once was home to palm trees. Evidence of the presence of plants similar to the macadamia and baobab were also found. The organism Archaea was found well-preserved and became a major indicator of temperature. Archaea exhibit altering molecular structures determined by surrounding temperatures. These species along with any others that resided there were killed when a glacial period moved in approximately 34 million years in the past.