Category Archives: ANTARCTICA

Remains of 90 million-year-old rainforest discovered under Antarctic ice

Remains of 90 million-year-old rainforest discovered under Antarctic ice

This artist’s illustration shows a young Purussaurus attacking a ground sloth in Amazonia 13 million years ago.

When dinosaurs roamed the Earth 90 million years ago, the planet was much warmer, including Antarctica at the South Pole. But in a surprising twist, researchers have discovered evidence that Antarctica also supported a swampy rainforest at the time, according to a new study.

Researchers captured a slice of the seafloor using a drill rig aboard a polar research vessel on West Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea between February and March in 2017. The sediment core sample was taken near the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers.

CT scans of the sediment core revealed pristine samples of forest soil, pollen, spores and even root systems so well preserved that they could identify cell structures. The soil included examples of pollen from the first flowering plants found this close to the South Pole.

Tina van de Flierdt and Johann Klages work on the sample of ancient soil.

They dated the soil, its fine-grained clay and silt to 90 million years ago. Their study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

“During the initial shipboard assessments, the unusual colouration of the sediment layer quickly caught our attention; it clearly differed from the layers above it,” said Johann Klages, study author and geologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute. “We had found a layer originally formed on land, not in the ocean.”

Scientists know that during the age of the dinosaurs, conditions were warmer. The mid-Cretaceous era, from 80 million to 115 million years ago, was the warmest period for Earth in the past 140 million years, the researchers said. The surface of the sea likely reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit in tropical areas. And the sea level was 558 feet higher than it is now.

But there has been no evidence about what conditions were like at the South Pole. This is the southernmost sample of the Cretaceous period collected so far, revealing what Antarctica was like between 83 and 93 million years ago.

This map shows how the continents were arranged 90 million years ago. A red X marks the drill site.

“The preservation of this 90-million-year-old forest is exceptional, but even more surprising is the world it reveals,” said Tina van de Flierdt, study co-author and professor in the Imperial College London’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering. “Even during months of darkness, swampy temperate rainforests were able to grow close to the South Pole, revealing an even warmer climate than we expected.”

Sediment cores can record a lot of information about climate, acting as a time capsule for average temperature, rainfall and vegetation.

“To get a better idea of what the climate was like in this warmest phase of the Cretaceous, we first assessed the climatic conditions under which the plants’ modern descendants live,” Klages said.

The findings paint an unusual portrait of the South Pole, where West Antarctica’s coast was free of the ice caps that cover it now and swampy rainforests covered the area instead.

The average daytime temperature was 53 degrees Fahrenheit. While that sounds mild to us, this is incredibly warm for a location near the South Pole, where current daytime temperatures hover between negative 76 degrees to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. And, as the researchers point out, it’s only two degrees warmer than Germany at the moment in March.

The Antarctic ice sheet didn’t exist at the time. River and swamp temperatures were likely around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. And the Antarctic summer temperature was likely around 66 degrees Fahrenheit. They estimate rainfall reached about 97 inches per year — about the same as Wales today.

The forests were similar to those now found on New Zealand’s South Island, the researchers said.

But how did Antarctica sustain temperate rainforests without year-round sunlight? Even millions of years ago, the South Pole endured what’s known as a four-month polar night when no sunlight can be seen.
The researchers investigated the levels of carbon dioxide that would have been in the atmosphere at the time.

They found atmospheric carbon dioxide was much higher than expected based on existing climate models. Carbon dioxide has a warming effect on the atmosphere and the planet, creating a greenhouse effect by trapping heat from the sun.

The high amount of carbon dioxide, combined with an ice sheet-less Antarctica covered in vegetation created the right conditions for a rainforest environment.

“We now know that there could easily be four straight months without sunlight in the Cretaceous. But because the carbon dioxide concentration was so high, the climate around the South Pole was nevertheless temperate, without ice masses,” said Torsten Bickert, study co-author and geoscientist at the University of Bremen’s MARUM research centre.

But the scientists still don’t know what caused Antarctica to cool off enough to form ice sheets, which leads them to their next challenge.

Traces of ancient rainforest in Antarctica point to a warmer prehistoric world

Traces of ancient rainforest in Antarctica point to a warmer prehistoric world

According to fossil roots, pollen, and spores recently found in West Antarctica, a thriving temperate rainforest existed around 90 million years ago.

The world was a different place back then. During the middle of the Cretaceous period (145 million to 65 million years ago), dinosaurs roamed Earth and sea levels were 558 feet (170 meters) higher than they are today. Sea-surface temperatures in the tropics were as hot as 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius).

This scorching climate allowed a rainforest — similar to those seen in New Zealand today — to take root in Antarctica, the researchers said. 

The rainforest’s remains were discovered under the ice in a sediment core that a team of international researchers collected from a seabed near Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica in 2017. 

As soon as the team saw the core, they knew they had something unusual. The layer that had formed about 90 million years ago was a different colour. “It clearly differed from the layers above it,” study lead researcher Johann Klages, a geologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, said in a statement.

An operator on the “Polarstern” ship drives the MeBo seabed drilling system using remote technology.

Back at the lab, the team put the core into a CT (computed tomography) scanner. The resulting digital image showed a dense network of roots throughout the entire soil layer. The dirt also revealed ancient pollen, spores and the remnants of flowering plants from the Cretaceous period.

Professor Tina van de Flierdt and Dr Johann Klages work on the sample of ancient soil.

By analyzing the pollen and spores, study co-researcher Ulrich Salzmann, a paleoecologist at Northumbria University in England, was able to reconstruct West Antarctica’s 90 million-year-old vegetation and climate.

“The numerous plant remains indicate that the coast of West Antarctica was, back then, a dense temperate, swampy forest, similar to the forests found in New Zealand today,” Salzmann said in the statement.

The sediment core revealed that during the mid-Cretaceous, West Antarctica had a mild climate, with an annual mean air temperature of about 54 F (12 C), similar to that of Seattle. Summer temperatures were warmer, with an average of 66 F (19 C). In rivers and swamps, the water would have reached up to 68 F (20 C).

In addition, the rainfall back then was comparable to the rainfall of Wales, England, today, the researchers found.

These temperatures are impressively warm, given that Antarctica had a four-month polar night, meaning that a third of every year had no life-giving sunlight.

However, the world was warmer back then, in part, because the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was high — even higher than previously thought, according to the analysis of the sediment core, the researchers said.

“Before our study, the general assumption was that the global carbon dioxide concentration in the Cretaceous was roughly 1,000 ppm [parts per million],” study co-researcher Gerrit Lohmann, a climate modeler at Alfred Wegener Institute, said in the statement. “But in our model-based experiments, it took concentration levels of 1,120 to 1,680 ppm to reach the average temperatures back then in the Antarctic.”

These findings show how potent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide can cause temperatures to skyrocket, so much so that today’s freezing West Antarctica once hosted a rainforest. Moreover, it shows how important the cooling effects of today’s ice sheets are, the researchers said.

The Face of Antarctica: Claims of Massive Face Buried Beneath the Ice

The Face of Antarctica: Claims of Massive Face Buried Beneath the Ice

The conspiracy nuts reckon they’ve found a grimacing face carved into the ice at a remote region in the southeast of the island. Notorious Instagram account ufo_scandinavia uploaded strange footage last week showing the bizarre anomaly.

It shows a man zooming in and out of a satellite snap on Google Earth. The snow in view appears to have the shape of eyes, a nose and a mouth. The mouth appears to be contorted in a terrifying grimace. The strange image sparked a frenzy online, with some claiming it’s evidence of a hidden civilisation.

Conspiracy theorists Blake and Brett Cousins – of YouTube channel thirdphaseofmoon – shared their thoughts on the Google Earth image.

“It appears to be a massive, ancient structure of some kind of face that is being revealed for the first time on Google Earth,” Blake said in his video.

“I would have to concur that whatever we’re looking at resembles some sort of megastructure.”

Brett added: “Could this be something that was left behind by the ancient civilisations of Antarctica?

“Ice melting could be revealing structures that would baffle the world.”

Around 90,000 people have watched the original Instagram footage of the Antarctic face.

One user quipped: “That is not a natural thing that mother nature made by wind and cold. Looks like a Viking. Metal helmet with the nose piece running down the upper part.”

The Face of Antarctica: Claims of Massive Face Buried Beneath the Ice
Screenshot of the alleged Face on Antarctica.

Another said: “No mind trick, that’s definitely a face.”

Others were more sensible in their approach. One explained: “This is purely natural and random. Looks like ice with cracks.”

The find is most likely the result of pareidolia, a bizarre effect that causes the brain to see shapes, structures and patterns where they do not exist.

According to Nasa: “Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where people see recognisable shapes in clouds, rock formations, or otherwise unrelated objects or data.

“There are many examples of this phenomenon on Earth and in space.”

This is not the first time conspiracy nutters have made outrageous claims about satellite snaps.

Back in April, one prominent UFO-hunter claimed to have found an alien sculpture of a nude woman on a distant asteroid. In March, he said he’d found a carving of the Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates on a mound on Mars. In other space news, Nasa’s manned mission to Mars could be delayed by 25 years as experts warn of radiation, health scares and food shortages.

Japan is ready to mine Mars’s largest moon after successfully completing all of the compulsory space contamination paperwork. Nasa managed to record the incredible sound of a ‘Marsquake’.

This Alien-Looking Creature Has Survived in Antarctica for at Least 30 Ice Ages

This Alien-Looking Creature Has Survived in Antarctica for at Least 30 Ice Ages

In Antarctica, a team of scientists who have been looking for it for decades have recently rediscovered a small insect-like organism that has survived 30 ice ages.

“This is what we affectionately refer to as the phantom springtail,” says BYU (Brigham Young University) biology professor Byron Adams., who conducts regular research in Antarctica.

“And we call it the phantom springtail because it’s white, like a ghost, but since we hadn’t found it after looking for it for years and years and years, we started to wonder if it was real if it really existed.”

This Alien-Looking Creature Has Survived in Antarctica for at Least 30 Ice Ages
A close-up image of a species of ghost collembola.

In an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers used the history of small microscopic Antarctic animals to understand exactly how the dynamics of the ice sheet developed over time and how they affected historic ecosystems.

“The evolutionary history of biological organisms can corroborate what we inferred from glaciology and geology about climate change in the past,” Adams said in a statement. “By doing so, we can better predict how life on Earth might respond to these kinds of changes now.”

Researchers have spent the past 20 years collecting samples from six different species of microarthropods at 91 sites in Antarctica. These tiny animals, known as springtails, live on the ground. They have very limited mobility and can only colonize ice-free areas.

During ice ages, ice sheets advance, expanding their coverage of living space, while during warming periods, ice sheets contract and become smaller, leaving more open spaces where ground animals can disperse.

By studying their current locations and patterns of genealogical and evolutionary divergence, Adams and his team can better understand how the West Antarctic ice sheet has changed over time.

The researchers found four species of the creatures, each showing genetically distinct populations in locations likely isolated for millions of years. The other two species were less genetically diverse, although their distribution was restricted.

Together, these patterns give an independent estimate of the timing and magnitude of the ice sheet advance and retreat. Antarctica.

Scientists accidentally discover species living in -2°C temperatures under the ice shelf in Antarctica

Scientists accidentally discover species living in -2°C temperatures under the ice shelf in Antarctica

Beneath the Antarctic ice sheets, there is still a lot of living organisms surviving in a very harsh climate, as found in a recent Frontiers in Marine Science report. During an exploratory survey, researchers drilled through 900 meters of ice in the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, situated on the southeastern Weddell Sea.

An annotated satellite image of the Filchner-Ronne Ice shelf is the second biggest ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Very few species have ever been observed under these environments at a distance of 260 km from the open ocean, in total darkness and with temperatures of -2.2 ° C.

This research, however, is the first to discover the presence of stationary animals – similar to sponges and potentially several previously unknown species – attached to a boulder on the seafloor.

British Antarctic Survey camera travelling down the 900-meter-long borehole in the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf.

“This discovery is one of those fortunate accidents that pushes ideas in a different direction and shows us that Antarctic marine life is incredibly special and amazingly adapted to a frozen world,” says biogeographer and lead author, Dr Huw Griffiths of British Antarctic Survey.

“Our discovery raises so many more questions than it answers, such as how did they get there? What are they eating? How long have they been there? How common are these boulders covered in life? Are these the same species as we see outside the ice shelf or are they new species? And what would happen to these communities if the ice shelf collapsed?”

Floating ice shelves represent the greatest unexplored habitat in the Southern Ocean. They cover more than 1.5m sq km of the Antarctic continental shelf, but only a total area similar in size to a tennis court has been studied through eight prior boreholes.

Current theories on what life could survive under ice shelves suggest that all life becomes less abundant as you move further away from open water and sunlight.

Scientists accidentally discover species living in -2°C temperatures under the ice shelf in Antarctica
The spongelike creatures were attached to a boulder, far under the ice

Past studies have found some small mobile scavengers and predators, such as fish, worms, jellyfish or krill, in these habitats. But filter-feeding organisms – which depend on a supply of food from above – were expected to be amongst the first to disappear further under the ice.

So, it came as a surprise when the team of geologists, drilling through the ice to collect sediment samples, hit a rock instead of mud at the bottom of the ocean below. They were even more surprised by the video footage, which showed a large boulder covered in strange creatures.

Life found beneath Antarctic ice sheet ‘shouldn’t be there’

New Antarctic expedition needed

This is the first-ever record of a hard substrate (ie a boulder) community deep beneath an ice shelf and it appears to go against all previous theories of what types of life could survive there.

Given the water currents in the region, the researchers calculate that this community may be as much as 1,500km upstream from the closest source of photosynthesis.

Other organisms are also known to collect nutrients from glacial melts or chemicals from methane seeps, but the researchers won’t know more about these organisms until they have the tools to collect samples of these organisms–a significant challenge in itself.

“To answer our questions we will have to find a way of getting up close with these animals and their environment – and that’s under 900 meters of ice, 260km away from the ships where our labs are,” continues Griffiths.

“This means that as polar scientists, we are going to have to find new and innovative ways to study them and answer all the new questions we have.”

Griffiths and the team also note that with the climate crisis and the collapse of these ice shelves, time is running out to study and protect these ecosystems.

New satellite images reveal mysterious dome structure hidden in Antarctica fuelling shock claims an ancient civilization once lived there

New satellite images reveal mysterious dome structure hidden in Antarctica fuelling shock claims an ancient civilization once lived there

We’ve got a digital picture of a ‘dome’ in Antarctica that shortly after, has sparked wild rumors of a civilization living in the frozen continent. The picture, which is said to be from Google Earth, shows an oval-shaped structure that is believed to be 400 feet (121 meters) across.

The so-called formation has been said to be evidence of a human culture that once occupied the South Pole. It can even be considered a natural phenomenon, as some people believe that.

‘What if, in the distant past, when Earth –and Antarctica— was much different than today, an ancient civilization developed there, creating fascinating structures, monuments and temples there?’ a post on Ancient Code says.

A Google Earth image of Antarctica has sparked claims of evidence there was once a civilization living in the frozen continent. The picture shows an oval-shaped structure that conspiracy theorists claim to be 400 feet (121 meters) across.

The post says scientists initially thought the discovery could be a sastrugi – a natural phenomenon formed by years of battering by strong, freezing winds and heavy snowfall.

But sastrugi are not known to form in oval shapes, as shown in the picture.  This is not the first time people have suggested there was a lost civilisation in Antarctica. Pictures released by Nasa from its IceBridge ice-mapping mission triggered a few people to claim evidence for this lost civilization had been found.

Sastrugi is a natural phenomenon that occurs when high winds blow across the snow, creating sharp, stiff peaks

Ashoka Tripathi, of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Calcutta, said the images showed clear evidence of an ancient human settlement beneath the ice sheet, according to World News Daily.

‘These are clearly features of some sort of human-made structure, resembling some sort of pyramidal structure,’ he said.

‘The patterns clearly show nothing we should expect from natural geomorphological formations found in nature. 

‘We clearly have here evidence of human engineering. The only problem is that these photographs were taken in Antarctica under 2 kilometers of ice. That is clearly the puzzling part, we do not have any explanation for this at the moment.’

Another strange theory surfaced last year, claiming that there is a mysterious pyramid in the Antarctic had emerged. Conspiracy theorists have posted a video on YouTube, in which they claim that US Secretary of State, John Kerry, visited Antarctica last week to visit an ‘alien base’ within the pyramid.

The video suggests that the images have been taken from Google Earth, but it is unclear whether they have been edited. The video was posted by the Third Phase of the Moon, a YouTube channel that regularly posts conspiracy theories on aliens.

It showed a pyramid-like structure in the snow, with a Google Earth-type label and pin. The label reads ‘Antarctica Pyramid’ – a misspelling of Antarctica, which suggests that the image might have been doctored.

Responses to the video were varied, with some users backing-up the claims, such as James Jason, who commented: ‘Excellent report Third Phase, I also believe things are about to get very dramatic, and that is for everyone on our planet.’

But others dismissed it, such as Gordon Anderson, who said: ‘I have spent a LOT of time on snow-covered mountains- skiing down, and this looks natural to me – not man-made anyway!’

Others joked John Kerry was there for other reasons, such as Daniel Schultz, who commented: ‘on his bucket list, fly to Antarctica and make ‘snow angels’ where no man has gone before.’

It is unclear what the structure could be, but it looks similar to a nunatak – a natural mountain peak that juts up above glaciers.

Nigel Watson, the author of the UFO Investigations Manual, told MailOnline: ‘Pictures of the pyramid structures are either photoshopped, cropped pictures to make the mountains look more like pyramids or simply pictures of natural formations called nunataks. 

‘They are mountainous formations created by shifting glaciers and erosion, not by laser zapping aliens.’ 

Pyramids are often an area of interest for conspiracy theorists. 

It shows a pyramid-like structure in the snow, with a Google Maps-type label and pin. The label reads ‘Antarctica Pyramid’ – a misspelling of Antarctica, which suggests that image might have been doctored

In October last year, a video posted on YouTube claimed there was a crystal pyramid beneath the Bermuda Triangle, which was to blame for the disappearance of several planes and ships in the area.

Mr. Watson added: There is always a mystique about pyramid structures. Back in the 1970s, there were many claims that such objects could preserve food, generate health benefits and even keep razors sharp.

500 Year Old Map Was Discovered That Shatters The “Official” History Of The Planet

500 Year Old Map Was Discovered That Shatters The “Official” History Of The Planet

How many times has the rise and fall of human civilization actually occurred on planet Earth? It has been said that the conventional wisdom that has been passed down for generations (at least that’s where we think the knowledge came from) is not old enough, or there was some disconnect somewhere.

There’s a lot of fake things out there on this topic, but the fact is if you really look close, we can’t account for the existence of many of the world’s mysterious monolithic or archaeological sites.

From the Bosnian Pyramids to the amazing site of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, to the South African site of Adam’s Calendar, they all irrefutably bring up questions about the origin of humanity itself.

Some sites seem to pre-date human civilization. How can that be explained? Knowing so many other things in life generally are not how they seem, and around every corner in what we were told about the history there is a deception, why wouldn’t there be an official deception located in this field of thought? Who, or what kind of entity could have possibly constructed so many elaborate and practically difficult to understand structures around the planet, millennia ago?

Obviously, our amnesia about the origin of humanity and literally everything about our existence is just a feature of this life. However, it doesn’t have to be such a mystery when it comes to things more concrete than the past-life amnesia people believe we were born with: we can concretely understand the history of humanity a little more.

Many people believe that before about 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, the official narrative for how old civilization gets, there must have been other intelligent and/or advanced human civilizations before that time.

Mapmaking itself was once considered much more of a complex task, characteristic of what they call civilized society. Some Babylonian clay tablets that seem to find origin around 1000BC seem to be the first known evidence of map-making.

One piece of the puzzle is thought to be this: the Admiral Piri Reis world map of 1513.

The official first sight of Antarctica reportedly was accomplished by a Russian expedition in 1820. Today it is believed that the continent’s ice caps formed about 34-45 million years ago. With some basic logic that means prior to 1820 Antarctica should not be present on any map, and of course, the continent should contain polar ice caps.

However, Ottoman cartographer and military admiral Piri Reis made a map that seems to contain Antarctica about 500 years ago.

Surviving fragment of the Piri Reis map showing the Central and South American coast. The appended notes say “the map of the western lands drawn by Columbus”

The Piri Reis map has a central focus on the East Coast of South America, Western Africa, and it includes the Northern Antarctic Coast. It seems to illustrate in a surprising amount of detail just what Queen Maud Land in Antarctica looks like. It’s accurate, and in the map, the ice-cold continent was not depicted as a barren wasteland, but rather as a continent full of dense vegetation.

A New Hampshire history professor named Charles Hapgood believed that a much different view of ancient history is depicted by this map, and the findings are unforgettable. Albert Einstein himself wrote a supportive forward to a book written by Charles Hapgood in 1953:

“His idea is original, of great simplicity, and – if it continues to prove itself – of great importance to everything that is related to the history of the Earth’s surface.”

The map is certifiably not a hoax, absolutely authentic by every measure. Here’s where it gets strange: Piri Reis did not say that he or his people specifically discovered Antarctica, but he noted that the information sourced for it was from other, much older maps, logs, and charts.

Hapgood suggests that perhaps the maps had been repeatedly copied and re-translated before the destruction of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. The destruction of the Library of Alexandria was the book burning of the new world, wiping out an incomprehensible treasure trove of info about the history of humanity, casting the historical knowledge of antiquity into the wind.

So Hapgood for some reason brought this info to the US Air Force of all people, and they performed testing of seismic data in Antarctica. Warning: these are not the people to trust. According to Fingerprints of the Gods:

“…the geographical detail shown in the lower part of the map agrees very remarkably with the results of the seismic profile made across the top of the ice-cap by the Swedish-British Antarctic Expedition of 1949. This indicates the coastline had been mapped before it was covered by the ice-cap. The ice-cap in this region is now about a mile thick. Learn how to enter parallel worlds of consciousness We have no idea how the data on this map can be reconciled with the supposed state of geographical knowledge in 1513. – Harold Z. Ohlmeyer Lt. Colonel, USAF Commander”

Was Antarctica a grassy, green land where life could thrive a mere 500 years ago, or perhaps several thousand years ago?

Scientists discover 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica

Scientists discover 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica

Antarctica wasn’t quite a region of ice for most of the year. It is widely believed that millions of years ago, when the planet earth was already a massive landmass called Gondwana, trees flourished near the South Pole.

Now, newfound, intricate fossils of some of these trees are revealing how the plants thrived — and what forests might look like as they march northward in today’s warming world.

“Antarctica preserves and ecologic history of polar biomes that ranges for about 400 million years, which is basically the entirety of plant evolution,” said Erik Gulbranson, a paleoecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 

A reconstruction of what the ancient forest look liked 385 million years ago, drawn by Dr. Chris Berry, co-author of the study describing the fossil trees.

TREES IN ANTARCTICA?

It’s hard to look at Antarctica’s frigid landscape today and imagine lush forests. To find their fossil specimens, Gulbranson and his colleagues have to disembark from planes landed on snowfields, then traverse glaciers and brave bone-chilling winds. But from about 400 million to 14 million years ago, the southern continent was a very different, and much greener place.

The climate was warmer, though the plants that survived at the low southern latitudes had to cope with winters of 24-hour-per-day darkness and summers during which the sun never set, just like today.

Gulbranson and his team are focused on an era centred around 252 million years ago, during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction.

Partial tree trunk with the base preserved, at the site in Svalbard (left) and a reconstruction of what the ancient forest look liked 380 million years ago (right)

During this event, as many of 95 per cent of Earth’s species died out. The extinction was probably driven by massive greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes, which raised the planet’s temperatures to extreme levels and caused the oceans to acidify, scientists have found.

There are obvious parallels to contemporary climate change, Gulbranson said, which is less extreme but similarly driven by greenhouse gases.

Prior to the end-Permian mass extinction, the southern polar forests were dominated by one type of tree, those in the Glossopteris genus, Gulbranson told Live Science. These were behemoths that grew from 65 to 131 feet (20 to 40 meters) tall, with broad, flat leaves longer than a person’s forearm, Gulbranson said.

Erik Gulbranson on site in Antarctica.
A photograph taken by Captain Scott on his final expedition of Dr Edward Wilson sketching on Beardmore Glacier.

Before the Permian extinction, Glossopteris dominated the landscape below the 35th parallel south to the South Pole. (The 35th parallel south is a circle of latitude that crosses through two landmasses: the southern tip of South American and the southern tip of Australia.)

BEFORE AND AFTER

Last year, while fossil-hunting in Antarctica, Gulbranson and his team found the oldest polar forest on record from the southern polar region.

They haven’t dated that forest precisely yet, but it probably flourished about 280 million years ago before being rapidly buried in volcanic ash, which preserved it down to the cellular level, the researchers said.

On Thanksgiving Day, Gulbranson will return to Antarctica for more excavations at two sites. Those sites contain fossils from a period spanning from before to after the Permian extinction.

Scientists discover 280-million-year-old fossil forest in Antarctica
Scientists have since uncovered further evidence of plant life on the continent, including this fossilized fern from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) fossil collection.
This partial trunk fossil was cracked near its base, but two distinct patterns are still visible in the rock: oval leaf bases at the bottom and diamond-shaped leaf bases moving up the trunk toward the top.

After the extinction, Gulbranson said, the forests didn’t disappear, but they changed. Glossopteris was out, but a new mix of evergreen and deciduous trees, including relatives of today’s gingkoes, moved in.

“What we’re trying to research is what exactly caused those transitions to occur, and that’s what we don’t know very well,” Gulbranson said.

The plants are so well-preserved in the rock that some of the amino acid building blocks that made up the trees’ proteins can still be extracted, said Gulbranson, who specializes in geochemistry techniques. Studying these chemical building blocks may help clarify how the trees handled the southern latitudes’ weird sunlight conditions, as well as the factors that allowed those plants to thrive but drove Glossopteris to its death, he said.

This season, the field team will have access to helicopters, which can land closer to the rugged outcrops in the Transantarctic Mountains where the fossil forests are found.

Subsequent expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula have unearthed hundreds of amphibian and reptile fossils. This lobster fossil (Hoploparia stokesi) from the BAS fossil collection was found in the Upper Cretaceous (100.5 – 66 million years ago) when the dinosaurs disappeared from the Earth.

The team (members hail from the United States, Germany, Argentina, Italy and France) will camp out for months at a time, hitching helicopter rides to the outcrops as the fickle Antarctic weather allows. The 24-hour sun allows for long days, even middle-of-the-night expeditions that combine mountaineering with fieldwork, Gulbranson said.