This artist's rendition of Antarctica shows what the landscape possibly looked like during the middle Miocene epoch, based on pollen fossil data. If Global Warming continues at the rate it is now, scientists say that this will soon be the new face of the frozen wasteland. (Photo : Flickr)
With new life beginning to grow in the warming waters of the Antarctic ocean, scientists fear that the frozen tundra will eventually resemble a younger version of itself, as it did over 15 to 20 million years ago.
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A team of scientists led by Sarah J. Feakins of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, including researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge found that ancient Antarctica was much warmer and wetter than previously expected.
Researchers examined plant leaf wax remnants in sedimentary samples taken from the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, stating that while Ice cores can only go back about one million years, sediment cores allow them "to go into deep time," as reported by NASA.
They found that summer temperatures along the Antarctic coast during the middle Miocene epoch were an average of 20 degrees (11 degrees Celsius) warmer than today, reaching highs of 45 degrees Fahrenheit and with proportionately higher precipitation levels.
Feakins, an assistant professor of Earth sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences tells NASA reporters,
"Just as history has a lot to teach us about the future, so does past climate.
This record shows us how much warmer and wetter it can get around the Antarctic ice sheet as the climate system heats up. This is some of the first evidence of just how much warmer it was."
According to the report, modern-looking animals roamed the earth during this period of warming such as "three-toed horses, deer, camel and various species of apes," both extinct and other wise. Humans did not arrive on the scene until just 200,000-years-ago.
Such temperatures were equated with a significant rise in carbon dioxide levels of around 400 to 600 parts per million, leading to increased vegetation.
NASA states that "In 2012, carbon dioxide levels have climbed to 393 ppm, the highest they've been in the past several million years," warning that "at the current rate of increase, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are on track to reach middle Miocene levels by the end of this century.