Fossilized plants found in the Antarctic similar to those found in Patagonian forests suggest that the two share a common heritage, according to the Chilean Government’s Antarctic Institute, INACH.
INACH researcher Dr. Marcelo Leppe led a 23 man expedition to uncover connections between the two continents. The fossils unearthed by the scientists found, he says, link the 90 million year old forests of southern Patagonia with Antarctica.
Leppe was able to make “at least four connections” between what today is Antarctica, and the current nation of Chile.
Species such as beech, oak, coigüe and mañío – even Chile’s national tree the Araucaría – are thought to have lived in what is now Antarctica during the final stages of the dinosaurs’ reign on earth, explained Dr. Leppe in an interview with El Mercurio.
Before the end of the year the team expects to complete further laboratory analysis and research to find out even more about the age of the forests, Leppe added.
“100 million years ago, there was a deep open sea known as the valley of green rock, but around 90 million years ago it began to fill with sediment, allowing the reconnection of both continents,” said the biologist.
The final link between the two continents disappeared 23 million years ago with the formation of the Drake Passage. But the Antarctic vegetation lasted long enough for the scientists to make a putative connection between the two continents.
“If we analyze the Patagonian and Antarctic flora in the last stage of the Late Cretaceous, we realize that the essential elements of Southern Chile’s forests are already present,” Leppe says.
INACH, the sole governmental agency responsible for carrying out active Chilean science projects in the Antartictic, aims to “strengthen and promote research in science, technology, and innovation in Antarctica, with an emphasis on social, political, and strategic aspects … thereby contributing to Chilean national competitiveness,” while also “fostering knowledge and making known the importance of the Antarctic continent among the Chilean national community.”
For more interesting discoveries, visit INACH’s official webpage.