Antarctica is of great interest to scientists as it is a totally unspoilt landscape where they can study the effects of climate change. Since 2006, researchers from Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the US have been drilling through ice, water and rock to recover core samples in a programme known as the Antarctic Drilling Project (ANDRIL). The team have made some amazing discoveries, including a “spectacular fossil” that exposed the history of this frozen desert.
However, it was revealed during NOVA’s “The Secrets of Antarctica” series how one find tops the rest.
The narrator said in 2015: “Hidden inside these cores are shells of microscopic algae called diatoms.
“For ANDRILL climate detectives these tiny diatoms create a highly revealing picture of the past because not all diatoms are alike.
“Some species are adapted to colder conditions, while others flourish in warmer waters.
“Again, the ANDRILL team examines cored from around 15 million years ago.
“They find smooth green sands containing diatoms that thrived in relatively warm water, confirming this was a time before Antarctica finally froze over.”
The series went on to explain how the team managed to pinpoint the exact moment in history that Antarctica’s climate changed.
The narrator added: “A picture is beginning to form of a long period of transition starting 34 million years ago when a cooling climate led to the formation of ice.
It’s not the last amazing find uncovered during the show, though.
During the same series, a 15 million-year-old discovery was also uncovered after digging 440 metres below the ice.
The documentary explained: “They recover a 12-foot length of core, wrap it in a protective cover before workers carefully carry it back to the lab to be examined.
When they crack it open, it’s in perfect condition.
“This mud and rock is more valuable than gold because each core is a time machine.
“We’re currently down to the depth of body 440 metres, that’s about a quarter-mile down corresponding to a time at least 15 million years ago when Antarctica was still warm.
“As the cores are recovered, each section is sliced lengthwise, X-rayed and scanned in labs at the drill site and back at McMurdo.”