300 million-year-old forest Discovered in China Under Volcanic Ash


A $300 million-year-old forest was reportedly found under volcanic ash in northern China near Wuda. Known as the Pompeii of the Permian period, the $300 million-year-old forest was marvelously preserved under volcanic ash  that was originally 39 inches thick.

The ash layer covering the forest was determined to be about 298 million years old dating back to early Permian Period when the supercontinent Pangea was coming together.

“This ash-fall buried and killed the plants, broke off twigs and leaves, toppled trees, and preserved the forest remains in place within the ash layer,” said the authors of the research led by Jun Wang of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology in China.

The $300 million-year-old forest was discovered by the researchers through examination of three sites with a total area of 10,764 square feet near Wuda in China. At these sites, they counted and mapped the fossilized plants. The tallest trees that formed the upper canopy — species in the genera Sigillaria and Cordaites — grew to 82 feet (25 meters) or more. Lower down, tree ferns formed another canopy. A group of now-extinct, spore-producing trees called Noeggerathiales and palm-like cycads grew below these, they found.

300 million-year-old-forest reconstructed

These three sites were noted to be somewhat different from one another in plant composition, which researchers have worked with painter Ren Yugao to show reconstructions of all of them.

“It’s marvelously preserved. 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.” Hermann Pfefferkorn, who collaborated with other scientists in the discovery, was quoted on the report.

As noted in the report, the research, which was also published in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) this week, was conducted by a team of American and Chinese scientists.

“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 added, who is also a paleobotanist from University of Pennsylvania.

Pfefferkorn was said to have collaborated with three Chinese colleagues namely, Jun Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yi Zhang of Shenyang Normal University and Zhuo Feng of Yunnan University in doing the research study leading to the discovery of the $300 million-year-old forest.

Mr. Pfefferkorn also stressed out that since the discovery is the first of its kind, it cannot reveal how climate changes affected life on Earth, but noted that it will help provide valuable context.

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