#Antarctica wasn't always a land of ice. Millions of years ago, when the continent was still part of a huge #SouthernHemisphere landmass called #Gondwana, trees flourished near the South Pole.
Now, newfound, intricate fossils of some of these trees are revealing how the plants thrived - and what forests might look like as they march northward in today's warming world. "Antarctica preserves an ecologic history of polar biomes that ranges for about 400 million years, which is basically the entirety of plant evolution," said Erik Gulbranson, a paleoecologist at the #UniversityofWisconsin #Milwaukee.
Trees in Antarctica?
It's hard to look at Antarctica's frigid landscape today and imagine lush forests. To find their fossil specimens, Gulbranson and his colleagues have to disembark from planes landed on snowfields, then traverse glaciers and brave bone-chilling winds. But from about 400 million to 14 million years ago, the southern continent was a very different, and much greener place. The climate was warmer, though the plants that survived at the low southern latitudes had to cope with winters of 24-hour-per-day darkness and summers during which the sun never set, just as today.
Gulbranson and his team are focused on an era centered around 252 million years ago, during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. During this event, as many of 95 percent of Earth's species died out. The extinction was probably driven by massive #greenhousegas emissions from volcanoes, which raised the planet's temperatures to extreme levels and caused the oceans to acidify, scientists have found. There are obvious parallels to contemporary #climatechange, Gulbranson said, which is less extreme but similarly driven by greenhouse gases. More in comments