Antarctica was covered in rainforest in the time of the dinosaurs, according to a new study.
Researchers have found evidence the South Pole had a climate and forests similar to New Zealand today in a startling discovery.
The team discovered soil from an ancient rainforest from the Cretaceous period within 900 km of the South Pole.
The analysis carried out by an international team of researchers of roots, pollen and spores shows the world was a lot warmer than previously thought.
Professor Tina van de Flierdt, from the Department of Earth Science & Engineering at Imperial College, London, said: ‘The preservation of this 90-million-year-old forest is exceptional, but even more surprising is the world it reveals.
‘Even during months of darkness, swampy temperate rainforests were able to grow close to the South Pole, revealing an even warmer climate than we expected.’
The heyday of the dinosaurs was the warmest period on Earth in the past 140 million years, with temperatures at 35 degrees and sea level 170 metres higher than today.
Despite the Antarctic Circle living through a four-month polar night, researchers discovered evidence it was once a temperate rainforest.
The evidence for the Antarctic forest comes from a core of sediment drilled into the seabed near the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica.
One section of the core, that would have originally been deposited on land, caught the researchers’ attention with its strange colour.
The team discovered a dense network of fossil roots, and they were able to count pollen and spores from plants.
Lead author Dr Johann Klages, from the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, said: ‘Before our study, the general assumption was that the global carbon dioxide concentration in the Cretaceous was roughly 1000 ppm.
‘But in our model-based experiments, it took concentration levels of 1120 to 1680 ppm to reach the average temperatures back then in the Antarctic.”
The findings were published in the journal Nature.