November 28, 2021

Beyond Going Long

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Research reveals the amazing past of the icy continent

The southernmost part of the world at that time was covered with dense forests and inhabited by various dinosaurs.

  • At the end of the Mesozoic era, the northern hemisphere was suffering from widespread fires.
  • Its occurrence has so far only been indicated in the Southern Hemisphere by research from a handful of finds.
  • A new study examined 75-million-year-old rocks from the non-glacial part of Antarctica.
  • Research has found that large-scale fires were no exception in the former Antarctic Circle

Today, Antarctica is covered by a continental glacier 2,000 meters thick. It looks forever old. However, Antarctica geologically froze relatively recently, at the end of the Third Age about 15 million years ago.

Before that, its climate was temperate or even subtropical for millions of years, and dense forests grew here.

new search that published The scientific journal Polar Research reports that at the end of the age of the dinosaurs, they encountered frequent, widespread wildfires.

fire season

Research conducted over the past 10 years has shown that our planet was experiencing frequent and widespread fires at the end of the Mesozoic during the Upper Cretaceous period (66 to 100 million years ago).

It was not related to the extinction of the dinosaurs. It lasted for millions of years before the impact killer asteroid.

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The “burning earth” period is revealed by analyzes of the rock record, the study of the occurrence of carbon left over from burning forests. The vast majority of evidence comes from the Northern Hemisphere.

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Super strength rupture

However, geologists expected the Southern Hemisphere to be no exception. “During the Upper Cretaceous, the Southern Hemisphere experienced the final phase of the disintegration of the supercontinent Gondwana,” the authors wrote in the study.

According to them, the movements of the earth’s crust caused intense volcanic activity in the territory of Antarctica, leaving behind many layers filled with volcanic ash.

However, indications of large-scale wildfires in the Southern Hemisphere have so far been known only in Tasmania, New Zealand and Argentina.

unfrozen side

So an international team led by paleobotanologists from the Federal University of Brazil in Pernambuk visited Antarctica.

Although most of the continent is covered in ice today, up to 20 percent of the Antarctic Peninsula remains ice-free. In some places, such as in the northeast of James Ross Island, rocky outcrops rich in fossils from the Mesolithic period have been discovered.

Scientists analyzed specific fossils collected in the Santa Marta Formation. Its rocks were deposited about 75 million years ago. The area at that time was outside the Arctic Circle, but it was covered with thick forests and there was a climate similar to the Mediterranean today or slightly cooler.

Burning Mesozoic Antarctica.

Source: Morelio Oliveira

Antarctica burning

Dinosaur fossils have been found in the formation in the past, but a team led by Brazilian scientists was interested in the presence of carbon.

The found burnt plant remains were examined using a scanning electron microscope. They found that the structure of the burnt tissue is typical of coniferous trees of the ancient Araucaria group.

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As it turned out, the researchers found the remains of a forest lying in the ashes.

“Our findings confirm that ancient forest fires also affected the vegetation of polar regions at the end of the chalk,” the study authors said. “The fires were nothing special on warmer land without a permanent ice cover.”

“This discovery shows that the forests burned a lot more at this time than we expected,” explains Jorge de Lima, lead author of the research on Flaviana.