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PREVIEW "It's an upright forest with trees still standing upright."
"But no fossils of these lost animals remain, ... We only saw a few insect parts,"
"Illinois geologists have discovered the remains of one of the world's oldest tropical rainforests, preserved in the ceiling of a coal mine 250 feet below the surface. The four-square-mile fossil forest the largest find ever is just south of Danville in Vermilion County, Ill.,
"An earthquake preserved all this for posterity. ''' it was akin to the 1811-12 earthquakes near New Madrid, Mo., which dropped a block of earth containing the Mississippi River, creating a natural dam that made Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. When the ancient earthquake hit, a sudden flooding in the submerged block killed the rainforest. Mud and silt rushed into the depression, preserving the stumps and logs in a layer that eventually became shale."

NOT due to a global catastrophic flood, but due to a small local catastrophe, refuting all young earth coal formation theories !!

Science in the News

Natural History Highlight

Four Square Miles of Carboniferous Forest Discovered

Smithsonian paleontologist Bill DiMichele and colleagues Howard Falcon-Lang (University of Bristol), John Nelson and Scott Elrick (Illinois State Geological Survey), and Phil Ames (Peabody Coal Company) discovered the remains of one of the world's oldest tropical rainforests, preserved in the ceiling of a coal mine 250 feet below the surface. Their discovery was recently published in the journal "Geology" entitled "Ecological Gradients Within a Pennsylvanian Mire Forest."

The rainforest extends over more than four square miles as the roof of two adjacent underground coal mines in eastern Illinois. This may be the largest single-time-period fossil forest found in the fossil record.

View of Mine

Fallen trunk section. A section of a large trunk has fallen from the roof and lies in the middle of the floor, to the right of the backpack. In the background, study coauthors John Nelson and Howard Falcon-Lang are examining the roof for plant fossils. The sides of the room are the coal bed.

A forest of lycopsid trees and tree ferns was uniformly developed throughout this area, and an understory of horsetails, seed ferns, and cordaitaleans (seed plants related to conifers) filled in under and around the tree fern-lycopsid forest where the land was drier. The forest was preserved when an earthquake dropped the area a few feet allowing flooding from an adjacent river, which drowned the vegetation and buried it in sediment. The sudden flooding in the submerged block killed the rainforest. Mud and silt rushed into the depression, preserving the stumps and logs in a layer that eventually became shale.

Neurpteris

Neuropteris, part of a frond of a "seed fern", seen on the mine ceiling or roof. The roof is the forest floor of the swampy environment in which these plants were living. Miners removed the coal bed exposing the forest floor "this would be the worm's eye view" (if worms had eyes!). Seed ferns were seed-bearing plants that had large, highly compound leaves much like ferns (hence their descriptive name).

Plant fossils are common in coal beds. Coal is the compacted result of peaty plant material. These are the remnants of extinct plants from Carboniferous period 300 million years ago, when the world was covered in lush, green vegetation. Illinois was near the equator and much warmer and wetter.

The forest's animal life was also unlike any found today, it was the age of insects. Early amphibians, dragonflies the size of seagulls, and nine-foot-long (three-meter-long) millipedes roamed the now lost world, the scientists said. But no fossils of these lost animals remain, according to Elrick. "We only saw a few insect parts," he said.

Neurpteris

Howard Falcon-Lang and John Nelson are standing on opposite sides of a large, prostrate trunk of a giant lycopsid tree. This monster tree is over 6 feet wide and stretches for over 120 feet, neither the base nor the top can be seen.

Giant tree ferns would have formed a lower canopy 30 feet high. Poking up through the ferns would have been 100-foot-tall clubmosses , asparagus-like poles that sprouted crowns full of spores. "What's extraordinary about this discovery is that this forest has been preserved in its growth position," said Falcon-Lang. "It's an upright forest with trees still standing upright."

Calamites

Base of lycopsid tree stump buried while still upright, as seen from underneath. A metal plate keeps the stump from falling and injuring the miners. The trunk projects up into the roof shale. This stump would have been "rooted" in the very top of the coal bed.

Lead study author Bill DiMichele said the lateral extent of the fossils allowed him to notice subtle changes in species diversity as he did surveys. As mining continues, the size of the exposed fossil forest grows by the day. DiMichele is now doing inventories of ancient plants in two other actively mined Illinois coal seams, the Danville and the Springfield, which sit above and below the Herrin, respectively, and are separated by about a half-million years of geological time. Where most botanists do their work by walking through a forest, DiMichele takes elevators down mine shafts "to get beneath the forest. "We get to walk under it and look up at it," he said. "It's the earthworm's view."

Calamites

Pith cast of Calamites, an extinct sphenopsid, but a close relative of the modern horsetails (Equisetum). Note the nodes (lines around the stem) where leaves and leaf-bearing branches would have been attached.

View of land above

Coal-swamp reconstruction: Peat forming swamps, also known as "mires", formed over vast parts of what is now the eastern United States and Western Europe during the later Carboniferous Period. The coal beds of these regions are the remains of these swampy landscapes. This reconstruction, done by Mary Parrish of the Department of Paleobiology, shows a forest dominated by a mixture of lycopsid trees (front right, also with juvenile tree), tree ferns (center front, with "mantles" of prop roots extending out from the trunks), seed ferns (left center, short trees with crown of frond-like leaves), and calamites (right side rear foreground, with branches in whorls). The forest is open and includes many vines and low-growing plants.

View of land above

Above ground, showing the flat, central Illinois landscape near the Riola mine, 250 feet above the coal seam. The current landscape is a far cry from the rainforest vegetation of the Carboniferous Era, 300 million years ago.

More photos and detailed information about this study can be found at the Illinois State Geological Survey ( click here ), or online at http://www.isgs.uiuc.edu/research/coal/fossil-forest/fossil-forest.shtml.

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Copyright 2007 Smithsonian Institution

Herrin Coal information

( article edited for emphasis)

Geologists discover world's largest fossil forest
in the ceiling of an Illinois coal mine

By Eric Hand
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
04/24/2007

Illinois geologists have discovered the remains of one of the world's oldest tropical rainforests, preserved in the ceiling of a coal mine 250 feet below the surface.

The four-square-mile fossil forest — the largest find ever — is just south of Danville in Vermilion County, Ill., in the 300-million-year-old Herrin coal bed, a 6-foot-thick strip mined by a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Peabody Coal.

Plant fossils are common in coal beds. Coal, after all, is the compacted result of peaty plant material. But scientists are surprised by the size of this fossil bed, which they suspect came about because of a freak, fortuitous event: an earthquake that flooded and buried the forest. The vast extent of the fossil forest, which existed in a swampy time of giant dragonflies and tree ferns, has allowed the scientists to infer subtle ecological changes across the ancient landscape.

"This is almost as good as insects in amber," said Scott Elrick of the Illinois State Geological Survey and one of the authors of the study, which was published in the May issue of the journal Geology. Advertisement

Black Beauty Coal, the Peabody subsidiary, operates two mines in Vermilion County, where the Herrin coal bed is thickest. The Riola mine opened in 1996, and the Vermilion Grove mine was developed in 2001. In the past decade, as miners excavated room after room, they began to notice the imprints of leaves, logs and stumps in the ceiling. Some stumps were 5 feet in diameter, and one log was more than 100 feet long.

Pteridosperm, an extinct seed-producing fern-like plant. The underground forest covers 40 square miles.

MSNBC report

These are the remnants of extinct plants from a geological period 300 million years ago, called the Carboniferous, when the world was covered in a riot of green. Illinois was near the equator and much warmer and wetter.

It was also a time before flowering plants had evolved, and so the plants would seem bizarre to modern eyes, said study co-author Howard Falcon-Lang, a geologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

"These are some of the earliest known rainforests to evolve on our planet," he said. "It was like something out of Jules Verne."

Giant tree ferns would have formed a lower canopy 30 feet high. Poking up through the ferns would have been 100-foot-tall clubmosses — asparagus-like poles that sprouted crowns full of spores. It was the age of insects, with 6-foot-long millipedes and dragonflies with yard-long wingspans.

"Imagine these forests alive with chirping and all these creepy crawlers," Falcon-Lang said.

An earthquake preserved all this for posterity. Elrick says it was akin to the 1811-12 earthquakes near New Madrid, Mo., which dropped a block of earth containing the Mississippi River, creating a natural dam that made Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee.

When the ancient earthquake hit, a sudden flooding in the submerged block killed the rainforest. Mud and silt rushed into the depression, preserving the stumps and logs in a layer that eventually became shale.

And that was the state of things until, 300 million years later, miners noticed shiny, funnel-shaped concretions that occasionally fell from the shale layer above them. They called them "kettlebottoms." But they were really fossilized stumps, whose roots fingered the peaty layer that ultimately became the coal seam the miners were working in.

"What's extraordinary about this discovery is that this forest has been preserved in its growth position," said Falcon-Lang. "It's an upright forest with trees still standing upright."

Lead study author Bill DiMichele, a paleobotanist at the Smithsonian Institution, said the lateral extent of the fossils allowed him to notice subtle changes in species diversity as he did surveys. As mining continues, the size of the exposed fossil forest grows by the day.

DiMichele is now doing inventories of ancient plants in two other actively mined Illinois coal seams, the Danville and the Springfield, which sit above and below the Herrin, respectively, and are separated by about a half-million years of geological time. Where most botanists do their work by walking through a forest, DiMichele takes elevators down mine shafts — to get beneath the forest.

"We get to walk under it and look up at it," he said. "It's the earthworm's view."

 


 


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