In an amazing discovery, a fossilized, 298-million-year-old forest has been found under a coal mine near Wuda, in Inner Mongolia, China. Like the Roman city of Pompeii, the 10,763-square-foot (1,000-square-meter) forest was preserved by ash from the eruption of an ancient volcano.
Because volcanic ash covered a large expanse of forest in only a few days, the plants were preserved as they fell, in many cases in the exact locations where they grew. “It’s marvelously preserved,” said University of Pennsylvania paleobotanist Hermann Pfefferkorn, “We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That’s really exciting.” The researchers also found some smaller trees with leaves, branches, trunk and cones intact, preserved in their entirety.
The scientists were able to date the ash layer to approximately 298 million years ago. That falls at the beginning of a geologic period called the Permian, when the Earth’s continental plates were still moving toward each other to form the super continent Pangea. North America and Europe were fused together, and China existed as two smaller continents. All overlapped the equator and had tropical climates comparable to Earth’s climate today.
Interestingly, a total of six groups of trees were identified. Tree ferns formed a lower canopy while much taller trees—Sigillaria and Cordaites—soared up to 80ft above the ground. Also found were nearly complete specimens of a group of extinct spore-bearing trees called Noeggerathiales.
A new study by Pfefferkorn, and colleagues Jun Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yi Zhang of Shenyang Normal University and Zhuo Feng of Yunnan University, presents a reconstruction of this fossilized forest, lending insight into the ecology and climate of its time. Their paper was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Stephanie Hedean is a marketing and communications consultant and volunteer at The Nature Conservancy.
Photos courtesy of University of Pennsylvania.
Trackback from your site.