Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Penn researcher helps discover and characterize a 300-million-year-old forest

21.02.2012
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 will be published next 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 over 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," said Pfefferkorn. "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 up 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," said Pfefferkorn. "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 cannot alone 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," said Pfefferkorn. "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.

Katherine Unger Baillie | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.upenn.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>