Forest fires in Antarctica

Is this a joke? Fires in a place full of ice? No. It just so happens that the region wasn’t always like this. That’s why evidence of forest fires were found in Antarctica. When are they from? From the time when dinosaurs walked the Earth.

Forest fires in Antarctica have left their mark to this day.
Forest fires in Antarctica left their mark to this day.
Hot Island

The Antarctic island of James Ross was not always like this, icy. The Upper Cretaceous – between 100 and 600 million years ago – was among the warmest on Earth. And it was home to a lot of dinosaurs. That’s why there was a temperate forest there. It was full of conifers, ferns and angiosperms (flowering plants).

Charcoal remains found on the island reveal huge forest fires of that time. They burned the local vegetation millions of years ago. “This expands knowledge about the occurrence of vegetation fires during the Cretaceous. It was more common than imagined.” said Flaviana Jorge de Lima. She is a paleobiologist at the Federal University of Pernambuco (Brazil).

It was discovered on an expedition to the northeastern part of James Ross. It took place between 2015 and 2016. There were plant fragments that looked like charcoal residue. “They were small. The larger, paper-thin pieces were only 19 millimeters by 38 millimeters. The microscope revealed their identity. They appeared to be coniferous trees called Araucariaceae“.

Antarctica was not always as we now see it.
Antarctica was not always as we now see it.
Volcanoes and fire

In the Late Cretaceous intense forest fires occurred frequently. The greatest evidence is in the northern hemisphere. This is the first recorded evidence of a prehistoric fire on James Ross Island.

Forest fires in Antarctica occurred when it was ice-free. There were many sources of ignition. Lightning, flaming meteor strikes, volcanic activity. There was flammable vegetation and high oxygen levels, facilitating the spread of fire.

What was the most likely cause in the Ross Island case? Volcanic activity is believed to have produced the charcoal analyzed. The study was published in the scientific journal Polar Research.

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