Would you believe that Antarctica was once covered with forests

As we all know Antarctica is freezing cold and recorded as the lowest temperature in the earth with a mile thick layer of ice covered the surface. And this news would be surprising. Because scientists have found fossils to prove that Antarctica was not covered with ice all the time as it was a tropical forest covered with trees a millions of years ago.

If we dig into the geography of our earth a 600 million years ago, things were drastically different from what we have it today. Earth was one supercontinent (Pangaea) with all the dry land which was not separated into 7 continents like we experience it today. Southern part of the supercontinent was called as Gondwana started to break from the northernmost Laursia over hundred of millions years and stood near what we call Antarctica today.

Those days not only the existence of the continents but also the climate was quite different with hot temperatures and hot humidity.  So the continent was on the South Pole and the plants had to prepare for the 4-5 months of darkness due to the situation of sun not setting over a period of time. Even though the modern plants need months for the transition but due to the different climate Gondwana’s plants had only about a month for the transition. Otherwise they wouldn’t stand the rapid change in light and temperature.

During the Permian Period, Kings of Gondwanan forests were towering trees which were in the Glosspteris genus and those were 65 to 131 feet tall with huge leaves spread over a human forearm. But back in 251 million years ago Permian-Triassic mass extinction killed 95% of the species in earth yet no firm cause was still revealed for the destruction. Some believe it happened as the oceans got acidify when the temperatures of the planet were raised to harmful levels due to volcanoes which were erupted as the greenhouse gas emitted.

According to statement given by researcher, Erik Gulbranson to the National Geographic, forests were immediately fossilized with this destruction , “The fungi in the wood itself were probably mineralized and turned into stone within a matter of weeks, in some cases probably while the tree was still alive. These things happened incredibly rapidly. You could have witnessed it firsthand if you were there.”

Antarctica Forest
Photo Credits: Erik Gulbranson

While we try to understand the mysterious nature of other planets, we have our oven evidence specifically wood fossils from once a green continent where now there is only ice all over. A good place to start all the dig ins once again.

Deepika Gnanathilake

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