Researchers from the University of Southampton have discovered tropical plankton and leaf fossils typical of modern sub-tropical climates in sediment samples taken in the Arctic, namely the area of Spitsbergen, Norway.
The findings are further evidence that the high Arctic had a much warmer climate during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) about 55 million years ago.
Temperatures on the Svalbard archipelago, which is situated high within the Arctic Circle, may have been as high as 25° at the time. As sediment on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the archipelago, preserves a continuous record from 65 to 33 million years ago, it is highly important to climate change research. During this time, greenhouse conditions gave way to icehouse conditions.
'Understanding the paleoenvironments of past greenhouse episodes is crucial to inform investigations of the potential effects of ongoing climate change,' explains Dr Ian Harding of the University of Southampton's School of Ocean and Earth Science.
The expedition that produced these results was part of the Paleo-Arctic Climates and Environments Project (pACE), which is sponsored by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN), a partnership of 17 research-led universities from Europe, North America, South East Asia and Australia.
Some 18 scientists and nine graduate students from Southampton, Pennsylvania State, Oslo, Utrecht, Leeds and Sheffield participated.
'Whilst in the Arctic, the group benefited from detailed explanations of the critical features of the geological successions by experts in a variety of different research fields,' Dr Harding says.
'Being able to compare these observations and interpretations with the findings of other expedition participants in different geographical areas and different parts of the geological timescale was invaluable. This is something made possible only by the collaboration of an international group of experts.' The experience was particularly valuable for the students, he adds.
The pACE project hopes to help establish a major international, multidisciplinary programme of research for the future. 'A whole 'alphabet soup' of organisations is seeking to set agendas for research into climate change, particularly in the Arctic.
However, there are almost no sources of funding to support coherent international approaches to this issue,' states David Pilsbury, chief executive of WUN.
'The WUN pACE programme not only aims to foster a new programme of research but to create a new cadre of young researchers with the skills necessary to transcend the discipline-bound approaches that can limit the impact of the knowledge we gain about the Earth.'
Researchers involved will, in the next phase, not only discuss their preliminary analyses of the samples collected so far, but also attempt to develop a research schedule for a better understanding of vegetation, oceans, climate and atmosphere in the Arctic during past climate changes.
Worldwide University Network
University of Southampton
University of Southampton
Based on information from the University of Southampton
Climate change & Carbon cycle research; Coordination, Cooperation; Earth Sciences; Scientific Research