Scientists have discovered prehistoric fossils in Antarctica that reveal that the frozen continent once had tree-filled forests. It is estimated that the trees grew around 260 million years ago – long before dinosaurs existed.
The discovery was made by geologists Erik Gulbranson and John Isbell of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) while scaling the frozen peaks of the McIntyre Promontory Transantarctic Mountains during the Antarctic summer, which lasts from late November through January.
The scientists uncovered fossil fragments of 13 long deceased trees dating from the end of the Permian Period, some 260 million years ago.
This period ended in a historic mass extinction, when over 90 per cent of our planet’s species, including polar forests, were wiped off the face of the Earth.
The discovery could help researchers uncover what life was like on our planet before the historic mass extinction.
“This forest is a glimpse of life before the extinction, which can help us understand what caused the event,” Gulbranson said in a university press release.
“People have known about the fossils in Antarctica since the 1910-12 Robert Falcon Scott expedition,” he added. “However, most of Antarctica is still unexplored. Sometimes, you might be the first person to ever climb a particular mountain.”
Researchers believe that the prehistoric Antarctic forests grew extremely rare and robust trees, capable of surviving various kinds of environments.
At the time of the Antarctic forest, Earth was a very different place. The continent was obviously a lot warmer and more humid than it is today. In fact, it wasn’t even its own landmass, instead, forming part of a massive supercontinent called Gondwana which composed of South America, Africa, India, Australia and the Arabian Peninsula.