Antarctica was on fire 75 million years ago
During the age of dinosaurs, devastating fires broke out on our planet again and again. Nothing has survived in Antarctica either: as paleontologists have now shown, Antarctica caught fire millions of years ago. But what set the fire?
nAristocratic trees, dinosaurs, and volcanoes: 75 million years ago, Antarctica today looked very different from today. During the Cretaceous at that time – the most recent period of the Mesozoic and one of the warmest periods in Earth’s history – the southern continent was not covered by ice and snow, but by forests. West Antarctica was a rainforest. There were also no freezing winds blowing over the Antarctic – instead, it caught fire and destroyed entire areas of forest.
Using fossils, paleontologists from Brazil and Germany have discovered for the first time a fire in Mesozoic plants on James Ross Island in the Antarctic Peninsula. The scientists published the results of their study in a specialized journal polar search.
But before we tell you more, we want to test your knowledge of Antarctica! If you can answer two of the three questions correctly, you can define yourself as a world expert on polarity.
This is how researchers proved the Mesozoic forest fire
But now we’re back in warm Antarctica, the Mesozoic. Under the supervision of paleobiologist Flaviana Jorge de Lima, the international research team analyzed fossils discovered during an expedition on James Ross Island between 2015 and 2016. Scientists have discovered tiny fossilized coal remains – the first indication of a possible forest fire.
The researchers followed their lead. To closely examine the fossil’s composition, they placed millimeter-sized coal particles under a scanning electron microscope. This allows images of object surfaces to be created with a high depth of field.
Based on these microscopic images, the researchers suspected that the charcoal came from burned naked people – more specifically from conifers of the Araucaria family. The study authors said this would coincide with earlier ancient plant records on James Ross Island.
In addition, Jorge de Lima and her colleagues were able to date the fossils: The fossil find came from the campanium – a phase of the Upper Cretaceous period that began about 84 million years ago and ended about 72 million years ago. One thing is for sure: when the dinosaurs took control of the Earth, part of Antarctica was burning.
There was a lot of burning in the chalk, especially in the northern hemisphere
As early as 2015, researchers from Brazil, Argentina, and Germany discovered Mesozoic wildfires on Nelson Island and the South Shetland Islands in Antarctica. At that time, they shared their findings in the specialized journal paleogeography, paleoclimatology, paleoecology With.
However, the coal analysis by Jorge de Lima and her team is considered pioneering in paleontology. As stated by the study director in a call:
This discovery expands our knowledge of the occurrence of vegetation fires in the Cretaceous period and shows that these fires were more common than previously thought.
When dinosaurs lived on Earth, there were often vegetation fires in the northern hemisphere. However, in the Southern Hemisphere, only isolated fires have been detected so far in what are now Argentina, Tasmania and New Zealand. From now on, the Antarctic Peninsula is also on this list.
Lightning, fireball or volcano?
It has not yet been possible to determine the factors that started the fire on James Ross Island. According to the study authors, lightning or fireballs from falling meteorites could be a possible cause of a fire, as well as a volcano. Fossils found in rock layers with volcanic ash indicate the presence of volcanic activity in Antarctica due to the movements of tectonic plates. A volcanic eruption is also believed to be the cause of the forest fire on Nelson Island.
It is plausible that volcanic activity triggered the forest fire that produced the coal examined here.
Scientists are now trying to track down more indications of Cretaceous wildfires in other regions of Antarctica. Do you want to continue your expedition to the South Pole? Then this article is just right for you:
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