January 16, 2018
Geologists have discovered 280-million-year-old tree fossils in what is believed to be evidence of the oldest polar forest found in Antarctica.
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.
Professor Gulbranson said people have known about the fossils in Antarctica since around 1910 but most of the region remains unexplored.
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.