Ancient Antarctica Used To Be As Warm As California

Written by on April 23, 2014 in Other News, Physical Oceanography
Map of Antarctica. Photo credit: NASA.

Map of Antarctica. Photo credit: NASA.

A new study of Antarctic temperatures during the Eocene epoch — a period with high concentrations of atmospheric CO2 40-50 million years ago — found that parts of Antarctica were as warm as California is today, and polar regions of the southern Pacific Ocean were similar to the heat of 21st-century Florida.

The research team, led by scientists at Yale, used a new way to measure past temperatures that could improve climate models used for predicting future climate. The findings emphasize the potential for increasing temperatures at both poles and highlight the associated risk of melting ice and rising sea levels.

“Quantifying past temperatures helps us understand the sensitivity of the climate system to greenhouse gases, and especially the amplification of global warming in polar regions,” co-author and associate professor of geology and geophysics at Yale, Hagit Affek, explained in a news release.

Today, the Antarctica is one of the coldest places on the planet year-round. But by measuring concentrations of rare isotopes in ancient fossils, researchers found that temperatures in parts of Antarctica reached 17 degrees Celsius (63F) and averaged 14 degrees Celsius (57F). In parts of the Pacific Ocean, temperatures reached 22 degrees Celsius (72F), similar to Florida’s seawater temperatures today. To put that in perspective, the average annual temperature in the South Pacific near Antarctica is 0 degrees Celsius.

“By measuring past temperatures in different parts of Antarctica, this study gives us a clearer perspective of just how warm Antarctica was when the Earth’s atmosphere contained much more CO2 than it does today,” Lead author Peter M.J. Douglas said.

“This provides strong evidence that global warming is especially pronounced close to the Earth’s poles. Warming in these regions has significant consequences for climate well beyond the high latitudes…

To learn more:

Ryder Bay near Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica.

Ryder Bay near Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica. Photo credit: NASA.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .


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