South East Wales

Cardiff uni researchers help unearth ancient forest

Ancient preserved trees Image copyright Cardiff University

Researchers have unearthed fossil forests, thought to have been partly responsible for a huge change in the earth's climate 380 million years ago.

Preserved tree stumps were uncovered in Norway by a team including Cardiff University researchers.

Scientists believe the forest could help explain a 15-fold reduction in carbon dioxide levels at the time.

Dr Chris Berry said it showed what the landscape was like as "the first trees were beginning to appear on Earth".

The forests, found in Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, grew near the equator during the Devonian period (420 - 360 million years ago).

Image copyright Cardiff University
Image caption An illustration of how the forest looked

Dr Berry, from Cardiff University's school of earth and ocean science, said: "During the Devonian period, it is widely believed that there was a huge drop in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, from 15 times the present amount to something approaching current levels.

"The evolution of tree-sized vegetation is the most likely cause of this dramatic drop in carbon dioxide because the plants were absorbing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis to build their tissues and also through the process of forming soils."

The team found forests were mainly formed of lycopod trees, which grew about 20cm (8in) apart from one another and reached 4m (13ft) in height.

During the Devonian period, Svalbard was located on the equator before tectonic plates shifted and it moved to its current location.

The findings were published in the journal Geology on Thursday.

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