Arctic was once tropical: Study
Scientists have found what might have been the ideal ancient vacation hotspot with a 74-degree Fahrenheit average temperature, alligator ancestors and palm trees. It?s smack in the middle of the Arctic.Updated: Jun 06, 2006 14:54 IST
Scientists have found what might have been the ideal ancient vacation hotspot with a 74-degree Fahrenheit average temperature, alligator ancestors and palm trees. It’s smack in the middle of the Arctic.
First-of-its-kind core samples dug up from deep beneath the Arctic Ocean floor show that 55 million years ago an area near the North Pole was practically a subtropical paradise, three new studies show.
The scientists say their findings are a glimpse backward into a much warmer-than-thought polar region heated by run-amok greenhouse gases that came about naturally. Skeptics of man-made causes of global warming have nothing to rejoice over, however.
The researchers say their studies appearing in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature also offer a peek at just how bad conditions can get. “It probably was (a tropical paradise) but the mosquitoes were probably the size of your head,” said Yale geology professor Mark Pagani, a study co-author. And what a watery, swampy world it must have been.
“Imagine a world where there are dense sequoia trees and cypress trees like in Florida that ring the Arctic Ocean,” said Pagani, a member of the multinational Arctic Coring Expedition that conducted the research.
Millions of years ago the Earth experienced an extended period of natural global warming. But around 55 million years ago there was a sudden supercharged spike of carbon dioxide that accelerated the greenhouse effect.
Scientists already knew that this “thermal event” happened but are not sure what caused it. Perhaps massive releases of methane from the ocean, the continent-sized burning of trees, lots of volcanic eruptions.
Many experts figured that while the rest of the world got really hot, the polar regions were still comfortably cooler, maybe about 52 degrees Fahrenheit. But the new research found the polar average was closer to 74 degrees.
What’s troubling is that this hints that future projections for warming, several degrees over the next century, may be on the low end, said the study.
It also shows that what happened 55 million years ago was proof that too much carbon dioxide — more than four times current levels — can cause global warming.
First Published: Jun 06, 2006 14:54 IST