Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

During the Cretaceous, about 2015 million to millions of years ago – one of the warmest periods in Earth’s history – the region in what is now James Ross Island was home to a variety of plants, including coniferous forests (such as pine trees), ferns and angiosperm plants (with flowers and fruits). The new study collected and analyzed traces of coal left behind by ancient fires in the region, known as paleo fires.

Representation of the Gondwana Supercontinent (Image: Reproduction / Public Domain)

According to the lead researcher, paleobiologist Flaviana Jorge de Lima, from UFPE, the discovery expands knowledge about the occurrence of vegetation fires during the Cretaceous, indicating that these phenomena were more common than previously thought. Moreover, this is the first evidence of a paleo fire recorded on James Ross Island.

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The news confirms a study published in 2015, led by the University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos, in which scientists presented evidence that spontaneous fires were common in Antarctica between 87 and 72 million years ago. For the new study, Lima and his team analyzed fossils collected between 2015 and 2016 in the northeastern part of the island. The samples showed fragments of plants with remnants of charcoal.

(Image: Reproduction / Lima et al./Polar Research)

The traces of charcoal were very small, with 19 per. 38 millimeters largest – as thin as a sheet of paper. Using the scanning electron microscope, the researchers were able to identify the nature of the material. The fragments are probably burnt gymnosperms (seeds) of a botanical family of conifers known as

Araucariaceae – the same as Araucaria, which occurs in southeastern and southern Brazil.

During the Cretaceous, the then supercontinent Gondwana was in the process of fragmentation, making places like Antarctica isolated from other parts of the country. At that time, without ice, the region had many natural sources of fires, such as lightning, meteor showers and volcanic activity. These factors, added to the vegetation and the high oxygen levels, according to the researchers provided the best conditions for paleo fires.

Gymnosperm charcoal analyzed in scanning electron microscope (Image: Reproduction / Lima et al./Polar Research)

According to the team, Antarctica had a large volcanic activity driven by the tectonic activity of the Cretaceous, as indicated by fossil remains in layers of ash. “It is likely that volcanic activity generated the paleo-fire that created the sphere reported here,” the researchers added. The next step in research is to search for new records elsewhere on the frozen continent.

The research was published on October 19 in the journal Polar Research.

Source: ScienceAlert

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