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No. 45: May-Jun 1986

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When Antarctica Was Green

Something is wrong with our recent history of Antarctica. Conventional wisdom insists that the continent has been ice-covered for over 15 million years. But now Peter Webb and his coworkers have found pollen and the remains of roots and stems of plants in an area stretching some 1300 kilometers along the Transantarctic Mountains. The Antarctic wood is so recent that it floats and burns with ease.

Webb's group postulates that a shrub-like forest grew in Antarctica as recently as 3 million years ago. The dating, of course, is critical, and is certain to be subjected to careful scientific scrutiny. Nevertheless, these deposits of fresh-looking wood do suggest that trees recently grew only 400 miles from the South Pole. Also of interest is the fact that the sedimentary layers containing the wood have been displaced as much as 3000 meters by faults, indicating recent large-scale geological changes.

(Weisburd, S.; "A Forest Grows in Antarctica," Science News, 129:148, 1986.)

From Science Frontiers #45, MAY-JUN 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss