Fossilized charcoal shows once-temperate Antarctica was often hit by wildfires
Scanning electron microscopic images of gymnosperm charcoal from the Santa Marta Formation in Antarctica: (a) Homogenized cell-walls; (b) overview of the cross-section; (c) detail of (b) showing the cross-section of the 3-D preserved wood with homogenized cell walls; (d) overview of tracheids in the longitudinal section; (e) longitudinal section showing uniseriate pits; (f) longitudinal section showing alternate pitting. (Polar Research 2021)
Antarcticas frozen landscapes are the epitome of ice.
But millions of years ago, fire regularly ravaged the continent. Thats the conclusion of new research that found evidence of regular fires about 75 million years ago.
Published in thejournal Polar Research, the research draws on fossilized charcoal from James Ross Island off the continents northeastern tip. During the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs roamed the planet, Antarctica wascoveredby a temperate rainforest with a diverse set of plants and trees including conifers and angiosperms, a category that covers about 300,000 species of flowering plants.
Tiny fragments of fossilized charcoal unearthed on James Ross Island provides evidence that those plants burned in wildfires. Electron microscopes revealed the burned wood belonged to ancient conifers called Araucariaceae.
The discovery adds more evidence to the theory that Antarctica both its islands and the main continent was no stranger to wildfire.
At the time, the continent now known as Antarctica was part of Gondwana, a supercontinent in the Southern Hemisphere that began breaking up into todays more recognizable continents about 170 million years ago.
Although regular blazes were the norm for other parts of the world during the Cretaceous Period, the study suggests the entirety of Antarctica was anything but immune to the warm eras wildfires.
The Cretaceous is a well-known global high fire period, they write. The natural forest fire caused by lightning strikes, fireballs, sparks and volcanic activity was a regular phenomenon throughout geological time, including in a continent that is known for its iciness today.
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