Ancient Svalbard Forest Linked To Dramatic Climate Shift

Posted: Nov 22 2015, 8:22am CST | by , Updated: Nov 22 2015, 3:13pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Ancient Svalbard Forest Hints on Dramatic Climate Shift
380 million years old fossilized trees, Credit: Cardiff University

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The tropical fossil forest dates back to nearly 400 million years ago and can provide insight into one of the most dramatic climate shifts in Earth's history.

British researchers have unearthed an ancient tropical forest in Svalbard, a Norwegian group of islands surrounded by Arctic Ocean.

The fossilized forest dates back to around 400 million years during late Devonian period and may provide clues to one of the most dramatic climate shifts in Earth’s history.

Scientists theorize that late Devonian period saw a huge drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which caused dramatic cooling across the globe. Many suggest that trees played an important role in the shift in climate as they extracted carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis. The rise of CO2-hungry forests might have contributed carbon dioxide reduction in atmosphere.

This rare ancient tropical forest may help unlock the mystery because very few trees from Devonian period have been found to date.

“During the Devonian Period, it is widely believed there was huge drop in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, from 15 times the present amount to something approaching current levels,” said Dr Chris Berry of Cardiff University's School of Earth and Ocean Science, who identified the forest remnants.

“The evolution of tree-sized vegetation is the most likely cause of this dramatic drop in carbon dioxide because the plants were absorbing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to build their tissues, and also through the process of forming soils."

Svalbard forests mostly consisted of lycopod trees, the oldest living plant division, which turned into coil deposits eventually. The forests were extremely dense with just 20 cm gap between each of the tree and were probably 4m in height.

“These fossil forests show us what the vegetation and landscape were like on the equator 380 million years ago, as the first trees were beginning to appear on the Earth.”

Berry continued. “It’s amazing that we have uncovered one of the very first forests in the very place that is now being used to preserve the Earth’s plant diversity.”

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