Twenty thousand years ago, life on Earth was much cooler. It was the end of a 100,000-year-old Ice Age – also called Last Glacial Maximum – and huge ice covered much of North America, Northern Europe and Asia. (If they had been here at the time, New York City, Berlin, and Beijing would all be in ice.)
Scientists are accustomed to studying this cool spell in Earth's history by looking at things like coral fossils and seabed sediments Now, a team of maritime explorers may have discovered a piece of the past that blows everyone else out of the water: an actual sample of 20,000-year-old seawater squeezed out of an ancient Indian Ocean rock formation. 1
When researchers examined the composition of these freshly squeezed water samples aboard their ship, they were surprised to discover that the water was extremely salty – much saltier than the Indian Ocean today. They carried out further tests ashore to examine the specific elements and isotopes (versions of elements) that make up the water, and all the results seemed out of place in the modern ocean.
In fact, everything about these water samples indicated that they came from a time when the ocean was much saltier, colder, and more chlorinated – just as it was at the last ice age maximum, when ice sheets sucked up the seawater Sea levels had dropped to several hundred feet below the current levels.
"After all indications, it seems pretty clear that we now have an actual piece of this 20,000-year-old ocean," said study lead author Clara Blättler, an Assistant Professor of Geophysics at the University of Chicago.
If these results actually contain water, the new samples provide the first direct look at how the ocean has responded to the geophysical fluctuations of the last ice age. This understanding could lead to improved climate models to better understand our changing world, Blättler said, "Any model you create for the climate needs to be able to accurately predict the past."
Note: At the time of this article release, no one had ever requested drinking the ancient ocean juice.
Originally published on Live Science .