ANTARCTIC PALYNOLOGY AND PALAEOCLIMATE – A REVIEW
VANESSA BOWMAN *
British Antarctic Survey, High Cross, Madingley Road, Cambridge, CB3 0ET
*Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
The first exciting clues that Antarctica had not always been ice-covered were the leaf fossils of Glossopteris plants that Scott’s party brought back from the Beardmore Glacier region in 1912. Since dated at ~ 250 million years old, it has become evident that Antarctica has been vegetated longer than it has been ice-covered. These first plant fossils from the Beardmore have led to over 100 years of scientific investigation of the rich macro- (e.g. leaves and fossil wood) and micro- (terrestrial and marine palynomorph) fossil record of Antarctica. Palynomorphs from the sedimentary record of Antarctica continue to provide an exceptionally detailed interpretation of high latitude vegetation and climate from Devonian to Neogene times, complementing and extending the macrofossil record. They document the transition from the Glossopteris-dominated Gondwanan flora to more modern conifer and then beech-dominated polar forests, followed eventually by a less diverse and lower stature vegetation as climates cooled and ice sheets became large and relatively stable into the Neogene. Continued research into terrestrial and marine palynomorphs provides essential insight into the environmental sensitivity of the polar regions in a future warmer world.
Keywords: Antarctica, palynology, palaeoclimate, vegetation