Tropical Forest: Arctic Fossils Found In Norway, How Did Tropical Trees Get There?

Fossils of a tropical forest have been discovered in the Arctic. The tropical tree fossils that were discovered in the Arctic were the same types of trees that would have been found around the equator 380 million years ago.

Finding evidence of the same type of tree in Norway was not expected. Scientists doing research on the fossilized tropical forest claim that the age of the forest makes it one of the oldest on Earth. Scientists have also said that they believe the tropical forest may have had a role in the substantial drop of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

The first trees began to appear on Earth during the Devonian period. The Devonian period lasted from 416 million years ago to 358 years ago.

There was an abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during the Devonian period. Carbon dioxide is vital for photosynthesis. With trees and forests beginning to pop up on Earth, more carbon dioxide was being pulled from the atmosphere for photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and with it being used up by the new Earth trees, the Earth began to cool. Chris Berry of Cardiff University commented on the findings in the Arctic.

“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. That’s fun, but finding the stumps in the ground tells you a lot more about their ecology.”

John Marshall from Southampton University joined Berry on studying the tropical Arctic forest. Marshall was able to determine the age of the forest by analyzing spores from rocks and comparing them to spores found in other areas. This technique enabled Marshall to say that this Arctic forest was actually 20 million years older than previously thought. Berry then understood that they were studying a forest “right from the beginnings of forest ecosystems.” All of the findings from Marshall and Berry have been published in the journal Geology.

How could a tropical forest be in the Arctic?

The age of the tropical forest fossils are so old that they were originally living in the equator region. They were brought north to the Arctic from continental drift. The type of trees that Marshall and Berry are studying in the Arctic are called lycopsids.

Today, over 1,000 types of lycopsids inhabit the Earth. This type of tree grew to a maximum height of 13 feet, and they would have grown very close together. These trees absorb more carbon dioxide than the other plants that were on the Earth at the time. Scientists have been trying to figure out why such a drastic decrease in carbon dioxide occurred during this time period, and they may now have their answer with the discovery of this tropical forest in the Arctic. Berry commented on carbon dioxide decrease.

“The evolution of tree-sized vegetation is the most likely cause of this dramatic drop in carbon dioxide because the plants were absorbing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to build their tissues, and also through the process of forming soils.”

The Arctic tropical forest is not the only ancient forest that scientists have come across. Berry had previously studied an older forest that was found in New York. The fossils that were found there tell the story of trees that were similar to the palm trees we have today. The root system of these ancient trees dominated the land around the area since the roots numbered in the thousands.

What are your thoughts on the discovery of a tropical forest that has been found in the Arctic? What other things can we learn from studying these ancient fossils?

[Image Via Chris Jackson/Getty Images]