Asked by: Benedict Hainsworth, Clitheroe
Like the rest of the Earth’s landmass, Antarctica is affected by ‘continental drift’, and is propelled across the face of our planet by the roiling motion of convective currents deep within the Earth. Around 450 million years ago parts of Antarctica were actually north of the equator, and the continent only arrived at its present position at the South Pole within the last 70 million years or so. Even then, the much warmer global climate kept it free of ice. Dinosaur fossils found there attest to its relatively balmy conditions – it only became a vast, frozen wilderness around 20 million years ago.
The combined effects of geological and climatic change have not ceased, however, though working out their impact on Antarctica is fraught with uncertainty. According to calculations by geologist Professor Christopher Scotese of the University of Texas, Antarctica could move significantly away from its current location and become at least partially ice-free again within the next 50 million years.
Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.