How the research was formed: A rendering of drilling operations during the campaign in Southern McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, from October - December 2007
If NASA's hunch is correct, Antarctica might have been a lot warmer 20 million years ago - if a bit wetter.
A new university-led study found that ancient Antarctica was much warmer and wetter than previously suspected.
The team, including researchers from Louisiana State University and the University of Southern California, say the climate was suitable to support substantial vegetation - including stunted trees - along the edges of the frozen continent.
By examining plant leaf wax remnants in sediment core samples taken from beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, the research team found summer temperatures along the Antarctic coast 15 to 20 million years ago were up to 11C warmer than today, with temperatures reaching as high as 7C.
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Precipitation levels also were found to be several times higher than today.
Sarah Feakins, an assistant professor of Earth sciences at the USC Dornsife College, said: 'The ultimate goal of the study was to better understand what the future of climate change may look like.
'Just as history has a lot to teach us about the future, so does past climate. This record shows us how much warmer and wetter it can get around the Antarctic ice sheet as the climate system heats up.
'This is some of the first evidence of just how much warmer it was.'
Scientists began to suspect that high-latitude temperatures during the middle Miocene epoch were warmer than previously believed when co-author Sophie Warny, assistant professor at LSU, discovered large quantities of pollen and algae in sediment cores taken around Antarctica.
Fossils of plant life in Antarctica are difficult to come by because the movement of the massive ice sheets covering the landmass grinds and scrapes away the evidence.
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