New Findings Show Antarctica was once Home to a Rainforest

By Ritvik Dutta

Approximately thirty-five million years ago, ice formed on the continent of Antarctica in the span of 100,000 years. Scientists knew that as a fact, however, the type of land that the Antarctic ice formed on was still up for debate in the scientific community. In 2017, geologists found evidence that there was a layer of land that the ice formed on prior to the freeze, expelling all thoughts that it formed on the ocean. The geologists drilled into the ground and noted that the sedimentary composition of the rock thirty meters below was drastically different from that of the rocks closer to the surface. This intrigued scientists, as they further pursued the topic and performed CT scans on the old rock, which revealed fossilized plants and plant roots. Scientists then conducted a microscopic analysis, uncovering the presence of pollen and spores. All of these discoveries led them to assume that there was once a tropical rainforest on the western coast of Antarctica, resembling one that mirrored the climate of the present-day Valdivian forest in Chile. This claim has been corroborated by recent findings.

Thomas Mörs, a paleontologist living on Seymour Island in Northwestern Antarctica, was observing fossils that his team had excavated between 2011 and 2013 under joint expeditions with Argentinian and Swedish scientists. When doing so, he found evidence of tropical life deep within the tundra soil: hip and skull bones of a frog. This frog was quite minuscule, about 4-5 centimeters in size. It also resembled today’s helmeted frogs that live in Chile. The frog likely hibernated in mud during the winters and lived in a climate similar to that of the temperate Chilean Andes. According to CNN, it may have also jumped on the pads of an extinct water lily.

The evidence of such life indicates that Antarctica’s tropical forest once seethed with life, until its eventual freeze. As the Thomson Reuters Foundation reports, scientists believe that this evidence only further explicates the consequences of climate change. “It tells us that whole ecosystems can be wiped out by global climate change, and that it might go fast,” Mörs said.  Mörs also added that the scenario seen on Antarctica is due to a rapid change in climate and that it was impossible for nature to adapt to the volatile conditions. With nature being forced to retreat, Mörs tells WQAD news, “This fauna lived 6 million years before the continent separated and then froze. There was glaciation likely already going on at the time.”

Frogs were originally thought to have lived on every single continent except Antarctica, but as new evidence unravels, Antarctica wasn’t as inhabitable as most people originally thought it to be.