Scientists Find Tropical Forest—in the Arctic

It would have thrived near the equator 380M years ago
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 20, 2015 11:29 AM CST
Scientists Find Tropical Forest—in the Arctic
An artist's drawing shows what Svalbard's fossil forest might once have looked like.   (Cardiff University)

Bet you didn't know there was a tropical forest in the Arctic. That's what scientists say they've uncovered in Svalbard, Norway, though the remnants of the forest are actually 380 million years old and fossilized. Back when the early trees—a type dubbed Protolepidodendropsis pulchra—were alive and thriving, the tectonic plate on which Norway sits actually rested near the equator, reports Popular Science. That helps explain why these ancient trees likely resembled today's palm trees. Though scientists found only fossilized stumps, they say the trees, related to club moss, probably had fern-like leaves, grew less than a foot apart, and stretched about 13 feet high, report Discovery News and the BBC.

The trees—which also had "small ribbon-like roots" and grew in wet soils, per Geology—likely played a role in "one of the most dramatic shifts in the Earth's climate in the past 400 million years," according to a Cardiff release. During this era, known as the Devonian Period, scientists say the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere plunged about 15-fold. "The evolution of tree-sized vegetation is the most likely cause of this dramatic drop in carbon dioxide," says one of the researchers, "because the plants were absorbing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to build their tissues and also through the process of forming soils." (Earth could use a few more live trees.)

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