Ancient Antarctic treasure trove discovered

Dec 27, 2012
Ancient Antarctic treasure trove discovered
Researchers discover an ancient fossil forrest in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand.

(Phys.org)—The chance discovery of a 100 million year old fossil forest on an island east of New Zealand has unlocked new insights on ancient life close to the South Pole.

Large trees in their original living position, early flowering plants, seed cones and rare insects preserved in a rock formation were discovered by researchers in the Chatham Islands. The find reveals what is believed to be the first records of life close to the during the Cretaceous period, a time of extreme 145- ago.

Led by palaeontologist Associate Professor Jeffrey Stilwell and palaeobotanist Dr Chris Mays from Monash University's School of Geosciences, a research team including Professor David Cantrill from the Melbourne made the discovery.

Associate Professor Stilwell said the fossils painted a picture of the formerly unknown life of the Cretaceous period when many southern continents including New Zealand and the Chatham Islands (Zealandia), Australia, Antarctica and South America were still mostly joined together as part of the southern landmass Gondwana.

"One hundred million years ago, the Earth was in the grip of a – a planet of extreme heat with minimal ice (except in the high altitudes) and sea levels of up to 200 metres higher than today," Associate Professor Stilwell said.

"Rainforests inhabited by dinosaurs existed in sub-polar latitudes and polar ecosystems were adapted to long months of winter darkness and summer daylight.

"Never before have we had evidence about what life existed near the South Pole 90 to 100 million years, or the conditions that life on land experienced.

The discovery, 865 kilometres east of New Zealand, was made in one the most remote fossil locations known in the Southern Hemisphere while researchers were investigating a bone bed further north on Chatham Island and plant remains on nearby Pitt Island. 

"Until now there was no modern analogue to this type of preserved forest as close to the South Pole at approximately 1200 kilometres, which is the equivalent distance between Melbourne and Brisbane," Dr Mays said.

"The discovery attests to a completely different type of ecosystem around 100 million years ago revealing the first insights into specific strategies these plants and animals evolved to cope with extreme greenhouse conditions, and months of light and alternating darkness."

Dr Mays said although no immediate comparisons could be drawn, the insights of life on Earth during past greenhouse conditions could provide clues as to how plants and animals will adapt to global warming in the future.

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User comments : 17

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Lurker2358
2.8 / 5 (10) Dec 27, 2012
"One hundred million years ago, the Earth was in the grip of a greenhouse effect – a planet of extreme heat with minimal ice (except in the high altitudes) and sea levels of up to 200 metres higher than today," Associate Professor Stilwell said.


I don't get that part.

there is only enough water-ice on Earth to raise sea levels by about 100 meters, and I calculated this would cause affected lands to sink at a ratio of about 1 to 6, making up about another 15 to 17 meters of net rise. this leaves 83 meters of additional sea level rise needed to explain 200 meters.

Is all of that 83 meters from thermal expansion?!
k_m
3.5 / 5 (8) Dec 27, 2012
http://www.amnh.o...on18.php
"If all the ice covering Antarctica, Greenland, and in mountain glaciers around the world were to melt, sea level would rise about 70 meters (230 feet)."
Arcbird
1 / 5 (9) Dec 27, 2012
This is not news... They would have reason to write when they find humans and architecture under all that ice..
barakn
4.4 / 5 (7) Dec 27, 2012
You've forgotten about the volume of space taken up by continents, which were not the same as today's continents, and perhaps more importantly, the condition of the oceanic crust. Newly made oceanic crust is warmer and rides higher, making for a shallower seafloor. All it would take for shallower oceans is a faster rate of seafloor crust production.
lessee90229
2.3 / 5 (4) Dec 27, 2012
Hold on... if water levels were so much higher then, this island would have been underwater... are we to believe that the forest site was much higher and that continental drift or tectonic plate shift brought it to present sea level? Unlikely. Some explanation seems to be missing...
obama_socks
1 / 5 (6) Dec 27, 2012
The islands may have been at a much higher elevation than they are now, possibly squeezed between two land masses to make them more mountainous. When the continents drifted apart, the stress and pressure would have been lessened, and the islands would have settled into their present elevation and locations.
In the picture, the hills in the background may be the remains of mountains that wind and rain have excavated. The forests would have covered the tall mountains up to the tree line, even if the sea level was 200 meters higher than today. Fossil trees would have slid down the mountains toward lower areas. Interesting find!!
bbrhuft2
5 / 5 (1) Dec 27, 2012
there is only enough water-ice on Earth to raise sea levels by about 100 meters, and I calculated this would cause affected lands to sink at a ratio of about 1 to 6, making up about another 15 to 17 meters of net rise. this leaves 83 meters of additional sea level rise needed to explain 200 meters.

Is all of that 83 meters from thermal expansion?!


Faster seafloor spreading rates during the early-Cretaceous continental breakup created large areas of younger less dense oceanic crust, resulting in shallow ocean basins that held less water; this as well as ice free Poles contributed to the increased sea levels.

Seton, M. et al. 2009. Mid-Cretaceous seafloor spreading pulse: Fact or fiction? Geology, 37(8), 687
Sinister1811
2.5 / 5 (8) Dec 27, 2012
Given the dry Antarctic conditions, you would imagine that there could be some pretty well preserved fossils there. I guess I was just kind of hoping for some frozen remains like those of that frozen mammoth found in Siberian permafrost.
Peteri
not rated yet Dec 28, 2012
Maybe it's simply a typo in the article - perhaps the author meant 20m instead of 200m!
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2012
Sinister1811: Unfortunately, the islands aren't in Antarctica today. They were near the South Pole when the fossils formed, thus the ambiguous headline "Ancient Antarctica..."
Sinister1811
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 28, 2012
Sinister1811: Unfortunately, the islands aren't in Antarctica today. They were near the South Pole when the fossils formed, thus the ambiguous headline "Ancient Antarctica..."


That's a shame. Anyways, thanks for the correction.
Dt_C_P_Trivedi India
1 / 5 (5) Dec 30, 2012
The find reveals what is believed to be the first records of life close to the South Pole during the Cretaceous period, a time of extreme greenhouse conditions 145-65 million years ago,
Max Planck Society Germany has reported under their project climap that 18000 years ago green house effect and subsequent global warming and ice age was there on the earth, both are same or different.
The Vedas have the reference of Global warming also, if it is confirmed than Vedas may guide further about origin of life.and consciousness in early primitive condition. The Higgs Boson and DNA were discovered in the same fashion as we have discovered.

Dt_C_P_Trivedi India
1 / 5 (5) Dec 30, 2012
Global warming is a modern threat for existence of life on the earth. It seems that the earth may have faced this situation earlier too as indicated in the Atharvaveda in a lucid manner Ath.10-8-39-41
Looking to the depth of the Vedic knowledge in the light of modern science, it seems that the Vedic culture may have flourished on the earth before the ice age and 'Green house Effect' and consequent Global warming had forced them to compile their knowledge in Vedic hymns.
El_Nose
not rated yet Dec 31, 2012
@Lurker

What about all the underground aquifers. There is a quadrillion gallon freshwater reservoir under the middle of the US that has been providing water for the bread basket for generations.
Hot Rod
not rated yet Jan 01, 2013
Maybe the author thought in feet and forgot to convert the number, 200 feet ~ 61 m; it wouldn't be the first time it happened. ;-)
Jonseer
1 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2013
Maybe the author thought in feet and forgot to convert the number, 200 feet ~ 61 m; it wouldn't be the first time it happened. ;-)


Perhaps, but one estimate for the total rise in sea levels should ALL the ice melt on all land masses including Antarctica and Greenland is over 500 ft.

Most lower estimates assume that SOME ice would remain in the more remote reaches of East Antarctica and/or Greenland.

The warm Cretaceous had none of that.

There were NO ice caps anywhere on the planet, and the only permanent ice would have been in high elevations where the the low temperatures are independent of climate.

Global maps of that era show oceans covering large areas of our present day continents.
Jonseer
1 / 5 (4) Jan 01, 2013
Hold on... if water levels were so much higher then, this island would have been underwater... are we to believe that the forest site was much higher and that continental drift or tectonic plate shift brought it to present sea level? Unlikely. Some explanation seems to be missing...


Instead of assuming, how about just doing some simple math and figure out how much 3 millimeters/annually X 90 million years equals.

3 millimeters is a very conservative amount in regards to the uplift or settling of land even by today's rather slow pace of plate tectonics.

90 million years is about the middle of the Cretaceous give or take a few million.

On the geological time scale the #s you think extreme are nothing.

In fact they are so small, you have to assume that the island in question has risen and fallen during that time.