300 Million-Year-Old Forest Discovered by Scientists

A 300 million-year-old forest that was discovered by a team on scientists in China is helping to shed light on how ancient climates affected ecosystems.

Pennsylvania State University's Hermann Pfefferkorn, a professor in the university's Department of Earth and Environmental Science, worked with three colleagues in China.

Jun Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yi Zhang of Shenyang Normal University, and Zhuo Feng of Yunnan University all helped contribute to the discovery.

The findings have been published and can be found in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"It's marvelously preserved," Pfefferkorn said. "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 team of scientists was able to uncover the prehistoric forest because there is a large coal-mining operation close to where the discovery was made.

The scientists were able to date the forest to about 298 million years ago. That puts the forest at the beginning of the time period referred to as the Permian era.

Scientists stated that during this period in earth's history the continental plates were still moving and forming the supercontinent known as Pangea.

North America and Europe were fused together, and China was actually two smaller continents. All land masses were near the equator which produced the remnants of the tropical forests that were found.

"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," Pfefferkorn said.

He continued, "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 included participants from the Chinese Academy of Science, the National Basic Research Program of China, the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the University of Pennsylvania.