Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

300-million-year-old forest discovered preserved in volanic ash

Date:
February 20, 2012
Source:
University of Pennsylvania
Summary:
Pompeii-like, a 300-million-year-old tropical forest was preserved in ash when a volcano erupted in what is today northern China. Paleobotanists have reconstructed this fossilized forest, lending insight into the ecology and climate of its time.

A reconstruction of the 300-million-year-old peat-forming forest at a site near Wuda, China.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Pennsylvania

Pompeii-like, a 300-million-year-old tropical forest was preserved in ash when a volcano erupted in what is today northern China. A new study by University of Pennsylvania paleobotanist Hermann Pfefferkorn and colleagues presents a reconstruction of this fossilized forest, lending insight into the ecology and climate of its time.

Pfefferkorn, a professor in Penn's Department of Earth and Environmental Science, collaborated on the work with three Chinese colleagues: Jun Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yi Zhang of Shenyang Normal University and Zhuo Feng of Yunnan University.

Their paper was published this week in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study site, located near Wuda, China, is unique as it gives a snapshot of a moment in time. Because volcanic ash covered a large expanse of forest in the course of only a few days, the plants were preserved as they fell, in many cases in the exact locations where they grew.

"It's marvelously preserved," Pfefferkorn said. "We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That's really exciting."

The researchers also found some smaller trees with leaves, branches, trunk and cones intact, preserved in their entirety.

Due to nearby coal-mining activities unearthing large tracts of rock, the size of the researchers' study plots is also unusual. They were able to examine a total of 1,000 m2 of the ash layer in three different sites located near one another, an area considered large enough to meaningfully characterize the local paleoecology.

The fact that the coal beds exist is a legacy of the ancient forests, which were peat-depositing tropical forests. The peat beds, pressurized over time, transformed into the coal deposits.

The scientists were able to date the ash layer to approximately 298 million years ago. That falls at the beginning of a geologic period called the Permian, during which Earth's continental plates were still moving toward each other to form the supercontinent Pangea. North America and Europe were fused together, and China existed as two smaller continents. All overlapped the equator and thus had tropical climates.

At that time, Earth's climate was comparable to what it is today, making it of interest to researchers like Pfefferkorn who look at ancient climate patterns to help understand contemporary climate variations.

In each of the three study sites, Pfefferkorn and collaborators counted and mapped the fossilized plants they encountered.In all, they identified six groups of trees. Tree ferns formed a lower canopy while much taller trees -- Sigillaria and Cordaites -- soared to 80 feet above the ground. The researchers also found nearly complete specimens of a group of trees called Noeggerathiales. These extinct spore-bearing trees, relatives of ferns, had been identified from sites in North America and Europe but appeared to be much more common in these Asian sites.

They also observed that the three sites were somewhat different from one another in plant composition. In one site, for example, Noeggerathiales were fairly uncommon, while they made up the dominant plant type in another site. The researchers worked with painter Ren Yugao to depict accurate reconstructions of all three sites.

"This is now the baseline," Pfefferkorn said. "Any other finds, which are normally much less complete, have to be evaluated based on what we determined here."

The findings are indeed "firsts" on many counts.

"This is the first such forest reconstruction in Asia for any time interval, it's the first of a peat forest for this time interval and it's the first with Noeggerathiales as a dominant group," Pfefferkorn said.

Because the site captures just one moment in Earth's history, Pfefferkorn noted that it alone cannot explain how climate changes affected life on Earth. But it helps provide valuable context.

"It's like Pompeii: Pompeii gives us deep insight into Roman culture, but it doesn't say anything about Roman history in and of itself," Pfefferkorn said. "But on the other hand, it elucidates the time before and the time after. This finding is similar. It's a time capsule and therefore it allows us now to interpret what happened before or after much better."

The study was supported by the Chinese Academy of Science, the National Basic Research Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the University of Pennsylvania.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Pennsylvania. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jun Wang, Hermann W. Pfefferkorn, Yi Zhang, Zhuo Feng. Permian vegetational Pompeii from Inner Mongolia and its implications for landscape paleoecology and paleobiogeography of Cathaysia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1115076109

Cite This Page:

University of Pennsylvania. "300-million-year-old forest discovered preserved in volanic ash." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 February 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120220161307.htm>.
University of Pennsylvania. (2012, February 20). 300-million-year-old forest discovered preserved in volanic ash. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120220161307.htm
University of Pennsylvania. "300-million-year-old forest discovered preserved in volanic ash." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120220161307.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Newsy (July 29, 2014) A report from the White House warns not curbing greenhouse gas emissions could cost the U.S. billions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Could Cost Billions According To White House

Climate Change Could Cost Billions According To White House

Newsy (July 29, 2014) A report from the White House warns not curbing greenhouse gas emissions could cost the U.S. billions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

AFP (July 29, 2014) The world's great apes face extinction within decades, renowned chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall warned Tuesday in a call to arms to ensure man's closest relatives are not wiped out. Duration: 00:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins