Scientists have discovered fossil fragments of at least 260 million-year-old trees in Antarctica, a finding which proves that the frozen continent once had a thriving forest even before the first dinosaurs roamed on Earth.
During Antartica’s summer, scientists from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee climbed remote region of the Mclyntre Promontory’s frozen slopes in the Transantarctic Mountains from where they discovered the tree fossils.
According to the scientists part of the expedition, forest would have existed before the Great Dying Mass Extinction Event some 252 million years ago.
They believe the mass extinction occurred due to prolonged volcanic eruptions in Siberia, which caused global temperatures to skyrocket. To understand the mass extinction event, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee headed to the mountain range from where the vegetation fossil was found.
The scientists during the expedition recovered 13 pieces of fossilized tree. The carbon-dating showed that the fossil were over 260-million years old. Geologist Erik Gulbranson, who was part of the expedition team said, “This forest is a glimpse of life before the extinction. It can help us understand what caused the extinction.”
According to researchers, Antarctica during the end of the Permian period, some 250 million years ago, joined onto the supercontinent Gondwana, which also included Africa, Australia, India and South America. The scientists also said that Antarctica during that time would had been far warmer, humid, with plants likes mosses and ferns covering the landscape.
Gulbranson further in his statement said that the fossils show that the plants must have had a fairly low diversity of species compared to today’s forest. “The Antarctica’s plant must have been capable of surviving in variety of environments,” added the Geologist.
He adds that the plant did not survive the Great Dying mass extinction and people knew about the fossils in Antarctica since 1910-12 after Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition. “Most of the continent is yet unexplored. You might be the first person to climb a particular mountain,” he added.
Gulbranson will return to the site later this month and stay through January 2018. He hopes to learn more about the extinction event.