A tropical forest in the Arctic consisted once of densely packed 12-foot-tall trees with flared trunks and curved branches of needle leaves. Today, the area consists of frigid temperatures, polar bears and ice, but according to recent findings by scientists, it wasn’t always like that.
As reported by Life Science on November 20, the tropical forest in the Arctic was discovered by Chris Berry and other researchers from the Cardiff University while doing field work in the area. “It’s amazing that we’ve uncovered one of the very first forests in the very place that is now being used to preserve the Earth’s plant diversity,” Berry said.
Berry, along with other biologists, are working in the Arctic and are using the frigid temperatures to refrigerate what is called a “Doomsday Seed Vault,” where seed samples from around the world are being stored in case of human-caused or nature-caused catastrophes.
Earth’s very first tropical forest in the Arctic existed 380 million years ago when the continents were still in different places and before the solid parts of the Earth as we know it today broke into tectonic plates. “Before continental drift carried the forest north by several thousand miles, the forest was growing close to the equator.”
Unlike today’s tropical forest, the one found in the Arctic by Berry and other researchers was more like “club mosses” called Lycopsids which grew to a height of about 13 feet (4 meters). According to the detailed description published in the journal Geology on November 19, “lycopsids grew in wet soils in a localized, rapidly subsiding, short-lived basin” and would have been tightly packed, with gaps of about 0.7 feet (20 centimeters) between trees. Their trunks would have flared slightly at the bottom, with some holding diamond- or oval-shaped patterns.
The Arctic tropical forest discovered by Berry and other researchers was identified by fossilized remains and by extracting spores from rocks, and comparing them with other spores from similar sites. “I have been working a lot on fossil trees from the Devonian by looking at the fragmentary fossils, and trying to assemble them back into whole plants,” Berry said. “That’s fun, but finding the stumps in the ground tells you a lot more about their ecology.”
The tropical forest found in the Arctic is of utmost significance to science because it is considered to be one of Earth’s first forests and because it revealed the effect a forest has on the atmosphere. “This high-tree-density tropical vegetation may have promoted rapid weathering of soils, and hence enhanced carbon dioxide drawdown, when compared with other contemporary and more high-latitude forests.”