Antarctica’s frozen landscapes are the epitome of ice.
Tiny fragments of fossilized charcoal unearthed on James Ross Island provides evidence that those plants burned in wildfires. Electron microscopes revealed the burned wood belonged to ancient conifers called Araucariaceae.
The discovery adds more evidence to the theory that Antarctica — both its islands and the main continent — was no stranger to wildfire.
At the time, the continent now known as Antarctica was part of Gondwana, a supercontinent in the Southern Hemisphere that began breaking up into today’s more recognizable continents about 170 million years ago.
Although regular blazes were the norm for other parts of the world during the Cretaceous Period, the study suggests the entirety of Antarctica was anything but immune to the warm era’s wildfires.
The Cretaceous is a “well-known global ‘high fire’ period,” they write. “The natural forest fire — caused by lightning strikes, fireballs, sparks and volcanic activity — was a regular phenomenon throughout geological time,” including in a continent that is known for its iciness today.