New research challenges the generally accepted belief that substantial ice sheets could not have existed on Earth during past super-warm climate events. The study by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego provides strong evidence that a glacial ice cap, about half the size of the modern day glacial ice sheet, existed 91 million years ago during a period of intense global warming. This study offers valuable insight into current day climate conditions and the environmental mechanisms for global sea level rise.
The new study in the Jan. 11 issue of the journal Science titled, Isotopic Evidence for Glaciation During the Cretaceous Supergreenhouse, examines geochemical and sea level data retrieved from marine microfossils deposited on the ocean floor 91 million years ago during the Cretaceous Thermal Maximum. This extreme warming event in Earths history raised tropical ocean temperatures to 35-37C (95-98.6F), about 10C (50F) warmer than today, thus creating an intense greenhouse climate.
Using two independent isotopic techniques, researchers at Scripps Oceanography studied the microfossils to gather geochemical data on the growth and eventual melting of large Cretaceous ice sheets. The researchers compared stable isotopes of oxygen molecules (d18O) in bottom-dwelling and near-surface marine microfossils, known as foraminifera, to show that changes in ocean chemistry were consistent with the growth of an ice sheet. The second method in which an ocean surface temperature record was subtracted from the stable isotope record of surface ocean microfossils yielded the same conclusion.
These independent methods provided Andre Bornemann, lead author of the study, with strong evidence to conclude that an ice sheet about 50-60 percent the size of the modern Antarctic ice cap existed for about 200,000 years. Bornemann conducted this study as a postdoctoral researcher at Scripps Oceanography and continues this r
|Contact: Annie Reisewitz|
University of California - San Diego