Researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM) have found fossil fragments of trees, which are 260 million years old in Antarctica and it proves that the frozen tundra was once a thriving forest long before the first dinosaurs appeared.
Researchers at the University climbed the McIntyre Promontory's frozen slopes in the Transantarctic Mountains during summer in Antarctica in search of fossils, pointing to the continent's potential green past.
"People have known about the fossils in Antarctica since the 1910-12 Robert Falcon Scott expedition," said Erik Gulbranson, assistant professor at UWM.
John Isbell, a professor at UWM, had previously studied the Permian glacial deposits on the icy continent to find out how exactly the climate change occurred, reported UWM Report. He used the rocks that he found around the fossilized trees and examined how the fossils fit in geologic history.
When the Earth shifted from ice to greenhouse conditions around 250 million years ago, it ended the Permian Period. It was during this time that over 90% of living species on Earth just vanished, including the forests at Antarctica.
"This forest is a glimpse of life before the extinction, which can help us understand what caused the event," Gulbranson added.
Now, researchers believe that the trees in the Antarctic forests were quite a sturdy species. Currently, the team of scientists is trying to conclude as to what made them go extinct.
The prevailing belief is that Permian-Triassic extinction, which caused the woods to disappear, had occurred due to a massive increase in greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane. It is possible that volcanic gases from eruptions in Siberia released volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
At the end of the Permian Period, Antarctica was more humid and warmer than it is today. As per the report, it was a part of the supercontinent Gondwana that spread over the Southern Hemisphere.
The hypothesis goes like this - there would have been mosses, ferns and other extinct plant species like Glossopteris in this forest, which would have spanned the entire Gondwana.