It seems that there was only ice there, eternally. But this is not so. Antarctica was disturbed by frequent forest fires. Seventy-five million years ago, volcanic episodes transformed the landscape. That was the time when Antarctica was on fire.
Paleontological samples collected on King George Island, Antarctic Peninsula, prove it. Earlier evidence dates back to 2015. But now it was shown that this occurred frequently, during the Cretaceous period. The new work was published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science.
Shaping the future
Understanding the environmental evolution of our planet is vital. “They are fundamental tools for the construction of current scenarios and models. It helps us in the conservation of current biota,” the researchers explain.
The Antarctic continent is increasingly arousing research interest for a better understanding. It is the continent that best preserves its environmental characteristics, being a true natural laboratory. It did not always occupy the geographical position it has these days. Throughout the geological eras, it moved and changed due to constant tectonic movements.
In ancient times it had a great diversity of species that composed and/or inhabited large forests. And they left their traces through the paleobotanical record preserved in different geological contexts of Antarctica.
Forest fires are very common shaping elements in terrestrial environments. They are evidenced, among other forms, by the presence of fossilized charcoal. Different factors influence the occurrence, frequency and intensity of natural fires in ecosystems. Seasonal climate, availability of plant material or humidity are among these.
What plants were there when Antarctica was on fire? The analysis of these recovered charred plant fossil fragments tells. They made it possible to characterize the burned vegetation, composed mainly of plants known as gymnosperms.
“The heated ash clouds reached the forests. And they triggered the start of natural vegetation fires,” say the paleontologists. It’s hard to imagine. But once upon a time, where there is ice now, there was a big fire sweeping through the profuse vegetation.