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New Evidence Shows Arctic Once Home to Tropical Climate

Digital Journal — Scientists now say the arctic was once a balmy, subtropical sunspot where the average temperature was 23 degrees Celsius (74 degrees Fahrenheit) and palm trees and alligators littered the area.

Research published in the journal Nature shows the planet Earth during the Eocene period saw warm temperatures as a result of huge quantities of naturally occurring greenhouse gas emissions. Core samples dug from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean show the area near the North Pole was far warmer 55 million years ago.

And to the great surprise of researchers, the simple fern plant might have been what saved the Earth from turning into a blazing oven. Forming in massive quantities in the Arctic, scientists say ferns sucked up massive amounts of carbon dioxide, causing tropical temperatures to fall. As the Earth began to cool quickly, wind patters, ocean currents and temperature began to change rapidly, impacting everything from climate to plant and animal life.

“The new research provides additional important evidence that greenhouse-gas changes controlled much of climate history, which strengthens the argument that greenhouse-gas changes are likely to control much of the climate future,” Richard Alley, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University told the New York Times.

With changing climate and global warming, the azolla fern grew in floating mats in the water for a period lasting about 800,000 years. The warm climate also created a swampy habitat in which relatives of the alligator, snakes and new species of mammals lived.

The study of Earth samples were collected in 2004 when a $12.5-million expedition a group called the International Ocean Drilling Program went to the Arctic.

Using two icebreakers to shatter through large pieces of drifting ice, the team settled nearly 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the North Pole. Workers on a third ship protected between the large icebreakers spent nine days drilling up to 430 metres (1,400 feet) through muck, fossil and ancient organisms and rock to collect samples. Previous samples from the area were sediment samples from undersea depths that dated back less than 400,000 years.

The new data collected proves the Arctic Ocean warmed remarkably around this timeframe as a result of the greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists now have to reassess their understanding of the region because it was previously thought that the Arctic froze only 15 million years ago.

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