The Mysteries of Antarctic Fossil Forests


Today, in our head, Antarctica is a vast mass of endless ice, but the truth is that this was not always so. About 260 million years ago, the continent housed a giant network of forests, and fossilized remains are now being studied in order to better understand the past of our planet.

When the continent was much warmer, before the appearance of the first dinosaurs, and before the greatest mass extinction of history, it was populated by vast forests. Scientists believe that the mass extinction was due to the devastating volcanic eruptions in Siberia.

The region in which researchers have concentrated their closest attention is known as McIntyre Promontory in the Transantarctic Mountains. The existence of the fossils is not exactly a novelty, being already known of the same since 1910, during the expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott.

It may seem impressive, but much of Antarctica is unexplored by man, with several unexplored mountains on the continent. The forests should be quite unique, since even at higher temperatures they had to subsist during several months of darkness during which they should have hibernated.

One of the great questions that usually arises is about the mechanism that allowed them to hibernate, and another is how these trees could adapt so quickly to the winter and summer periods, questions for which eventually these fossils will bring an answer.

There is evidence that tree leaves are scattered across the continent, and new fossils suggest that eventually the trees could turn on and off the summer or winter way rather quickly. Researchers also believe that the foliage of these forests is substantially less diverse than the one that characterizes the forests we know today.

Since this forest and these fossils are actually a witness to life before the mass extinction, they can help us better understand the origin of the event.

A number of expeditions to the continent are already planned for the coming months, which could help us elucidate how our planet adapts to extreme climate change.