A “New” Theory About the Formation of the Antarctic Ice Sheet

Watts Up With That?

Guest post by David Middleton

antarcticatheory

One of the big mysteries in the scientific world is how the ice sheets of Antarctica formed so rapidly about 34 million years ago, at the boundary between the Eocene and Oligocene epochs.

There are 2 competing theories:

The first explanation is based on global climate change: Scientists have shown that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels declined steadily since the beginning of the Cenozoic Era, 66 million years ago. Once CO2 dropped below a critical threshold, cooler global temperatures allowed the ice sheets of Antarctica to form.

The second theory focuses on dramatic changes in the patterns of ocean circulation. The theory is that when the Drake Passage (which lies between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica) deepened dramatically about 35 million years ago, it triggered a complete reorganization in ocean circulation. The argument is that the increased separation of the Antarctic…

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