News ID: 208112
Published: 0814 GMT January 15, 2018

Scientists discover 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica

Scientists discover 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica
The polar forest grew at a latitude where plants can’t grow today and scientists are now trying to understand why they went extinct. (UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MILWAUKEE/SCREENGRAB)

Geologists have discovered 280-million-year-old tree fossils in what is believed to be evidence of the oldest polar forest found in Antarctica.

According to the Independent, Erik Gulbranson and John Isbell from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee trekked across the Transantarctic Mountains during the continent’s summer, between November and January.

They found the ancient specimens among the rocks where a leafy forest once grew.

The team previously found fossil fragments of 13 trees which they estimated were over 260 million years old, meaning the forest would have grown before the first dinosaurs appeared at the end of the Permian period.

The team have now returned to the frozen slopes once more to find out how the forest could have flourished there.

Gulbranson said people have known about the fossils in Antarctica since around 1910 but most of the region remains unexplored.

The polar forest grew at a latitude where plants can’t grow today and he believed they must have been an extremely hearty species in order to survive. The team is now trying to understand why they went extinct.

“There isn’t anything like that today,” he said. “These trees could turn their growing cycles on and off like a light switch. We know the winter shutoff happened right away, but we don’t know how active they were during the summertime and if they could force themselves into dormancy while it was still light out.”

The trees are believed to have been able to survive by living nearly half the year in absolute darkness followed by up to five months of continuous light.

During the Permian Period, Antarctica was much warmer than it is today. At the time, Antarctica was then still part of Gondwana, the Southern Hemisphere’s supercontinent that incorporated present-day Africa, South America, Arabia, India and Australia.

There would have been a mixture of mosses and ferns and the geologists believe forest stretched across the entirety of Gondwana.

 

 

   
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