Svalbard’s forest in Arctic Norway is around since the Devonian, and is estimated by scientists to have been a major carbon sink during a time when forests were just emerging.
Svalbard’s forest has been dated to be 380 million years old. While it certainly doesn’t retain the same features from when it emerged during the Devonian period, the stumps found in Arctic Norway are nothing short of fascinating.
Svalbard’s forest hasn’t always been in the Arctic Norway region. It once grew near the equator, where lush tropical forests are found now. But with the continental drift, the ancient forest has been carried to Norway, in the Svalbard region.
416 million years ago, the Devonian period was dawning. Lasting until 358 million years ago, it was a period when the oldest forests on our planet started emerging. Some, as Svalbard’s forest still keep traces of the major carbon sinks playing an active role in the global cooling event taking place at the end of the Devonian period.
The remaining traces, some visible, some still buried in the hills and cliffs of the region remind of a forest very different from what we’d expect from a tropical forest nowadays. As Svalbard’s forest in Arctic Norway is around since the Devonian, the trees that composed it were largely different. During the time, forests were composed of lycopsid tree species.
These trees would grow to approximately 13 feet in height. Their trunks would be either diamond or oval-shaped, while their leaves would resemble needles. Today, there are still approximately 1,200 lycopsid tree species inhabiting the globe’s forests. In Svalbard’s forest, these would have been so densely packed that the distance between one tree and another would only be 0.7 feet.
With the emergence of large trees and forests during the Devonian, the carbon in the atmosphere found a major carbon sink. Today, forests around the world are still the largest carbon sinks. Efforts to conserve them and halt deforestation are being ramped up due the forests’ role in curbing greenhouse gas emissions as well as providing numerous life-sustaining services to communities worldwide.
If you’re curious to read more on Svalbard’s forest, check out the study published in the Geology Journal.
Photo Credits: fossilmuseum.net