Findings detailed in Jan. 16 issue of Nature; greenhouse gases implicated
A study by University of Massachusetts Amherst geoscientist Robert DeConto posits an alternative theory regarding why Antarctica suddenly became glaciated 34 million years ago. The study challenges previous thinking about why the ice sheet formed and holds ramifications for the next several hundred years as greenhouse gases continue to rise. DeConto, who collaborated with David Pollard of Pennsylvania State University, has published the findings in the Jan. 16 issue of the journal Nature. The work was funded by the National Science Foundation.
"Scientists have long known that Antarctica was not always covered in a sheet of ice. Rather, the continent was once highly vegetated and populated with dinosaurs, with perhaps just a few Alpine glaciers and small ice caps in the continental interior," DeConto explained. "In fact, the Antarctic peninsula is thought to have been a temperate rainforest." Previous research on microfossils and ocean chemistry had already revealed that the Antarctic ice sheet may have developed over a period of just 50,000 years or even less, "the flip of a light switch in geologic terms," said DeConto. The dramatic shift occurred at the cusp of the Eocene and Oligocene eras. "The question," noted DeConto, "is why did it happen then, and why did it happen so quickly?"
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