Antarctica is a baron wasteland where not much can survive. However, this may not always have been the case. In a breakthrough new discovery, a team of geologists have discovered what appears to be parts of a 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica. It has been suggested that this forest survived through periods of continuous darkness, as well as continuous sunlight.
So, who was behind this amazing discovery? The two lead scientists were Erik Gulbranson and John Isbell of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. To get to the dig site, the pair trekked across the Transantarctic Mountains during the continent’s summer, between November and January. During this, they stumbled upon a discovery that has changed their lives forever – 280-million-year-old tree fossils among the rocks where a leafy haven once grew. Initial impressions suggest that the forest these geologists have discovered is the oldest polar forest ever found in Antarctica, which is absolutely remarkable.
It keeps getting better though. These fossils might actually be older than dinosaurs! A previous discovery offered fossil fragments of 13 trees which were estimated to be between 260 and 300 million years old. Dating the fossils was one of the hardest parts about finding them, according to the geologists. While the estimate is 280 million, there is an margin of error of 20 million years.
These trees aren’t like normal trees that we know today though. They survived in conditions that trees probably wouldn’t be able to. The polar forest is believed to have emerged at a latitude where plants can’t grow today. This suggests had led to Dr. Gulbranson speculating that the trees probably had to have been an incredibly dynamic species in order to survive. Not only this, but they also survived through periods of complete darkness for about 7 months and complete sunlight, for around 5 months, 24/7. This suggests that the trees were able to switch their growth “on and off” when they needed to.
So, why did these versatile trees disappear? There have currently been no solid conclusions drawn, however Dr. Gulbranson and his team are trying to understand the cause which led to the mass extinction of the forest. The leading theory so far is that almost 90% of all species vanished from the face of the earth, including the polar forest, all because of increasing global temperatures that followed in the next few thousand years, as well as ocean acidification. m
All of this can likely be linked back to greenhouse gasses and a huge injection of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for almost 200,000 years. Even though everything has gone extinct, this forest has been preserved extremely well thanks to the colder climate in Antarctica. Hopefully, with more meticulous research and investigations, more can be understood about the causes behind the mass extinction and loss of such a forest. Evidentially, no matter how versatile or resilient a species is, air pollution and climate change will destroy and kill it eventually.