How did Antarctica become frozen?

Was the Antarctica ever ice free or warm? Antarctica is currently the coldest continent on Earth, with few animal species. However, centuries ago, it was flourishing with life. Of the main reasons for this disparity that evolved over time is that it was not always at the south pole. In fact, the continents spanning across the globe were in different positions in the distant past.

It has been theorized that millions of years ago, the continents – Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America and Antarctica – were all very much close to each other, almost bound together. The single chunk made up by these continents 200 million years ago has been named the giant continent Pangaea.

pangaea

The uppermost part of Pangaea is known as Laurasia while its southern part is called Gondwana, which included Antarctica.

Continental drift

Thereafter, a phenomenon called continental drift took place whereby parts of the massive continent grew apart from each other, such that the part representing Antarctica moved to the south pole. Now, because of continental drift, Antarctica is at the southern tip of planet Earth, covered in ice, with only penguins and small bugs in the coasts as main animals in the landscape.

antarctica icebergs

Fossil evidence of previous life in Antarctica

Antarctica is seen to have been in close proximity to the equator, hence explaining how it used to contain a broad variety of flora and fauna. On its surface grew luscious forests and walked different species of animals.

antarctica fossils map

Scientists have shown how fossil evidence seems to point to the possibility that all continents were once clustered together.

Now, the fossil reserve of Antarctica is mostly under the ice. However, some dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the mountains of the south pole continent. So, though Antarctica is now isolated from most animal species, it once had dinosaurs living on its surface.

When Antarctica broke away from the super-continent, drifting south, it began to undergo a decrease in temperature. It first separated from Africa, and remained linked to Australia and South America. When linked to the latter two, it still had a tropical climate. Linked with Australia, the past Antarctica also had marsupials. Then, when it was detached from Australia (40 million years ago), it became colder and colder. Its lush forests eventually died out. Ice became the new floor. As it further separated from South America, most of its animal species disappeared – this occurred around 23 million years ago. At this point in time, Antarctica had around 1.6 kilometer-deep layer of ice – the snow that fell remained in the solid state, given the temperature.

In a matter of time, Antarctica went from looking like this:

antarctica with dinosaurs

To this:

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