Never read half the study: Tropical Climate in the Antarctic, palm trees 52 million years ago etc etc

I had the good fortune to catch this funny little story on Digg. It’s better represented here though. It’s a paleolithic study into the flora of the Antarctic region from the period 52 millions years ago. Actually, according to the “Business Insider” its’ actually the Arctic. Which is pretty funny.

Anyway, the story goes that 52 million years ago the CO2 concentrations of the atmosphere were just twice they are today and this is something to be very afraid of.

The study published in the journal Nature shows that tropical vegetation, including palms and relatives of today’s tropical Baobab trees, was growing on the coast of Antarctica 52 million years ago. These results highlight the extreme contrast between modern and past climatic conditions on Antarctica and the extent of global warmth during periods of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Around 52 million years ago, the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was more than twice as high as today. “If the current CO2 emissions continue unabated due to the burning of fossil fuels, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, as they existed in the distant past, are likely to be achieved within a few hundred years”, explains Prof. Jörg Pross, a paleoclimatologist at the Goethe University and member of the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) in Frankfurt, Germany.

The message is quite clear. Double the CO2 and Western Antarctica is going to look like West Pal Beach.

There’s only one tiny problem with that concept, as admitted by the good Professor near the very bottom of the article. He says

“The CO2 content of the atmosphere as assumed for that time interval is not enough on its own to explain the almost tropical conditions in the Antarctic

In other words, it’s all the other “feedback” mechanisms that caused the problem and/or something else we don’t really have a handle on.

Or to put it into layman’s terms…..

WE DON’T REALLY KNOW. Not really. He added.

“Another important factor was the transfer of heat via warm ocean currents that reached Antarctica.”Another important factor was the transfer of heat via warm ocean currents that reached Antarctica.”


Of course, that didn’t stop the following publications;

BBC – Who asset that higher CO2 levels will create a similar effect on today’s Earth. Despite the study clearly stating the CO2 cannot cause the effect.

Fox – Shockingly Fox appears to have got the correct details in this story. Who would have believed that!

The Times of India – Basically makes the same mistake as the BBC, never mentions ocean currents. Then it goes into a diatribe about how we shouldn’t exploit the natural resources of the area and global population density etc etc. It does mention the current temperatures in Antarctica, which are currently the coldest they’ve been in many years. In fact, so cold they’ve actually hit the freezing point of CO2!

At which point I got bored and moved in….. 🙂

Another important factor was the transfer of heat via warm ocean currents that reached Antarctica.”


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