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Antarctica Geological Timeline - A history of the land of Antarctica

History: The Heroic Age | Historical timeline | Geological timeline | Ships of the explorers | Explorers quiz Antarctic Expeditions crew lists and biographies
Explorers: Amundsen Fram pictures | von Bellingshausen - Vostok and Mirny | Borschgrevink - Southern Cross | Bruce - Scotia | Charcot Français Pourquoi-Pas? | Dumont D'Urville - Astrolabe and Zéléé | von Drygalski - Gauss | de Gerlache - Belgica | Mawson Aurora | Nordenskjöld - Antarctic | Ross - Erebus and Terror | Scott: Discovery South Pole The journey to the pole Pictures | Shackleton: Nimrod Endurance Quest
Ebooks: The South Pole - Amundsen | Home of the Blizzard - Mawson | Last Expedition - Scott | South - Shackleton

A brief guide to the long history of Antarctica

What else was happening in the world?

Other stuff

Jurassic era, 195 -136 Million Years Ago - MYA

Antarctica had been a part of "Gondwanaland" (an ancient super continent that was breaking up and doesn't exist any more) for about 200 million years.

180 MYA

Breaking up - was it something I said?Gondwanaland consisting of Africa, Antarctica, Australia, India and New Zealand begins to break up

Dinosaurs rule the world and have done for nearly 30 million years

First flowering plants appeared.

First mammals and birds appeared - but dinosaurs still rule

The South Atlantic is born as Gondwanaland breaks up

Wandering continents

The idea that continents are not fixed in position or size and wander about across the globe is known as Plate Tectonics. It was noticed long ago that the west coast of Africa and east coast of South America fit together quite nicely (ignoring a few thousands of miles of ocean in between).


And then when the continents have floated off.... what do they do next?????This and other evidence was put into a theory by a chap called Alfred Wegener in 1912. Like many theories that challenge the accepted view of things, he wasn't taken seriously at first.


Hmm, maybe that Wegener fellow has it right after all..... of course I agreed from the start.By the 1960's and 1970's however, the theory had become accepted due to new evidence about magnetism on the sea floor (terribly complicated stuff - you don't want to know about it now).


On me head sonThe view is now that the earth is made up of plates, some are land plates, some are ocean plates. They fit together like the patches making up a football - except that there's less of them and they don't stay in the same place, they wander around over the football (earth), and they're not all the same size, and they're bigger than the patches on a football, and some are land while some are sea (Oh sorry I said that already). But apart from those things it's exactly like a football.




Climate change

Scientists are able to find out what the climate was like in different parts of the world in the past mainly through the fossils of plants and animals that are found in the rocks of known age. Corals means the climate was warm, woolly rhinoceros mean that the climate was cold - for instance.


How old was that sandwich I just ate?Not as exciting, but plant pollen grains can give a lot of information about the types of plants and therefore the climate at various times in geological history.


Other clever stuff like oxygen isotopes and chemical data found in rocks from lava flows (like a snap-shot at the time it solidified) also add to the picture.



Cretaceous era 136 - 65 MYA

100 MYA

Lumberjack Jake says - "If only I'd been alive then!"Vast forests cover Antarctica made up largely of ferns and conifers (flowering plants such as most trees that we recognize today had only just evolved and hadn't got very far yet)

96 MYA

Australia and New Zealand split from Antarctica, Antarctica goes it alone.

Enjoy it while it lasts, it's going to get cold soon.70 MYA

Antarctica enjoys a semi-tropical climate, continues to drift south.

Rocky mountains rise in North America

First placental mammals arise - mammals that give birth to live young (earlier ones laid eggs like duck billed platypus and echidnas)

65 MYA an asteroid strikes the earth off the coast of Yucatan, Mexico -  some think that this killed off the dinosaurs, others think they were on the way out anyhow. Dinosaurs don't rule anymore - mammals do.


Il pleut60 MYA

Antarctica develops a cool temperate climate (like the UK)

Mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous era leaves empty niches that the now dead dinosaurs, giant marine reptiles and much other flora and fauna used to occupy.

Lots of new animals and plants evolve to fill these niches.

Eocene era 54 - 38 MYA

I'm sure it wasn't like this last time we came this way.50 MYA

Much geological activity as the Trans Antarctic mountains are uplifted from sea level cutting across Antarctica from coast to coast.

40 MYA

The first large ice caps form as Antarctica settles its position over the south pole


First horse like animals,  rhinoceroses, ruminants, and the ancestors of elephants

The first penguins evolve from flying birds

Oligocene era 38 - 26 MYA

Antarctica accepts the fact that it's a loner and becomes a rugged individualist being the coldest and windiest place on earth.

First monkeys and apes

First cat and dog families

Miocene era 26 - 7 MYA

OK who left the freezer door open?25 MYA

The whole Antarctic continent becomes covered in ice.

20 MYA

The Antarctic convergence arises. This circumpolar upwelling of deep oceanic waters essentially isolates the southern ocean from the South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans and has a great effect on keeping Antarctica cold. It also means that many sea creatures cannot migrate north or south across the convergence.

Quite right too, can't have too many seals12 MYA

Seals all over the place.


The first whales evolve from land-dwelling insectivorous ancestors

Pliocene era 7 - 0 MYA

2 - 5 MYA

Fossilized plant remains found from this period, imply that the ice sheets have advanced and melted many times over the ages.

4 MYA first Hominids (human like creatures) arise

Homo sapiens, 200,000 years ago? maybe as little as 50,000 years ago

Recent - Now

Antarctica continues to be jolly cold indeed

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