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Shrimp fossil tells of once (and future?) temperate Antarctic


Was the Antarctic once a balmier place? Researchers report in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B that a fossil of a tiny crustacean offers proof that it had a relatively toasty clime as recently as 14 million years ago. The rocks in eastern Antarctica's Dry Valleys region yielded the fossil of an ostracod (seen at left)—a shrimp-like crustacean that lived in an ancient Antarctic lake seen at left. The tiny crustaceans need liquid water to survive—unavailable in today's Antarctic where temps average -13 degrees Fahrnenheit (-25 degrees Celsius), but possible eons ago when the climate there was more like Alaska's. The living relatives of the ancient critter don't get any closer to Antarctica than the surrounding seas, but the fossil indicates that the bone dry landscape, often compared to that of Mars, once was warm enough to have water. What it doesn't reveal is what caused the climate shift, a process that may be reversing itself at present.

Image Credit: Mark Williams, University of Leicester.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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