According to a recent study, it has been revealed that the icy continent of Antarctica was once a region covered with forests. Recently, the researchers got hold of fossil fragments of trees that are said to be around 260 million years old. This indicated that the frozen continent had a deep forest long before the dinosaurs first appeared on Earth. During Antarctica’s summers, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UMW) climbed the McIntyre Promontory’s frozen slopes in the Transantarctic Mountains. There they searched for the presence of any type of fossils that could provide them some hints about the continent’s potential green past and the possibility of life in the past.
Erik Gulbranson, assistant professor at UWM, said that people were aware of the fossils in Antarctica since the 1910-12 Robert Falcon Scott expedition, but still there are many regions in Antarctica that are unexplored. John Isbell, a professor at UWM, had previously studied the Permian glacial deposits present on the frozen continent to get information about hoe climate changed during that period. And during this summer expedition, he used the rocks around the fossilized trees to figure out how the fossils fit into the icy continent’s geologic history.
From the study, it was found out that the Permian Period ended 251 million years ago when the earth rapidly shifted from frozen icy condition to greenhouse condition. This led to the extinction of about 90 percent of the living species and also during that time the polar forests got vanished. This indicates that a massive increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane might have caused the Permian-Triassic extinction.
Gulbranson said that the prehistoric forest is a glimpse of life before extinction which would help scientists understand what caused the event. The researchers found out that the trees of the ancient Antarctic forests were completely robust species and they are trying to find out what caused their extinction. Actually, Antarctica was a warm and humid region during the end of the Permian Period. It was a part of the supercontinent Gondwana that spread over the Southern hemisphere. From the fossil fragments of forests, scientists think that there is the possibility of presence of mosses, ferns and other ancient plant species like Glossopteris in the polar forest spreading throughout Gondwana. The latest research is an important find to know about the history of Antarctica and whether life existed in the icy continent or not.