Temperate rainforests near the South Pole during peak Cretaceous warmth

Johann Philipp Klages, Ulrich Salzmann, Torsten Bickert, Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, Karsten Gohl, Gerhard Kuhn, Steven Bohaty, Jürgen Tischak, Juliane Mueller, Thomas Frederichs, Thorsten Bauersachs, Werner Ehrmann, Tina Van De Flierdt, Pereira Patric Simoes, Robert D. Larter, Gerrit Lohmann, Igor Niezgodzki, Gabriele Uenzelmann-Neben, Maximilian Zundel, Cornelia SpiegelC Mark, D Chew, JE Francis, Gernot Nehrke, Florian Schwarz, JA Smith, T Freudenthal, O Esper, H Paelike, T Ronge, R Dziadek

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14 Citations (Scopus)
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Abstract

The mid-Cretaceous period was one of the warmest intervals of the past 140 million years 1–5, driven by atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of around 1,000 parts per million by volume 6. In the near absence of proximal geological records from south of the Antarctic Circle, it is disputed whether polar ice could exist under such environmental conditions. Here we use a sedimentary sequence recovered from the West Antarctic shelf—the southernmost Cretaceous record reported so far—and show that a temperate lowland rainforest environment existed at a palaeolatitude of about 82° S during the Turonian–Santonian age (92 to 83 million years ago). This record contains an intact 3-metre-long network of in situ fossil roots embedded in a mudstone matrix containing diverse pollen and spores. A climate model simulation shows that the reconstructed temperate climate at this high latitude requires a combination of both atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations of 1,120–1,680 parts per million by volume and a vegetated land surface without major Antarctic glaciation, highlighting the important cooling effect exerted by ice albedo under high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-86
Number of pages6
JournalNature
Volume580
Issue number7801
Early online date1 Apr 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2020

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