'Antarctica was once covered by lush subtropical forests'
Santiago: Nearly 300 million years ago, the frozen, inhospitable Antarctica was covered by lush subtropical forests, according to scientists.
"That Antarctica was once green is a matter of consensus among scientists, but still unknown to many people," Marcelo Leppe, a paleontologist who works with the Chilean Antarctic National Institute, told Efe news.
Leppe, Chile's representative to the international Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, has spent his professional life searching for fossils that offer clues to the origins of the flora and fauna of the White Continent.
Forests began to appear in Antarctica some 298 million years ago during the Permian geologic period, as glaciers retreated and the global climate entered a warming phase, Leppe said.
Fossils from the subsequent Jurassic period reveal the existence of fern and conifer forests where the Cryolophosaurus species of dinosaur thrived.
But the golden age of vegetation in Antarctica was the Cretaceous period, which began 145 million years ago and lasted until around 66 million years ago.
"Roughly 80 million years ago, walking in Antarctica was like walking today in a tropical or subtropical forest, something like what we could encounter in south-central Chile or in New Zealand," Leppe said.