Coal Mines Help Paleontologists Learn about Environmental Change

DiMicheleWilliamSpringfieldCoal2012-06-12.jpg “SUBTERRANEAN; William A. DiMichele in the Springfield Coal. The dark mass is a coal seam; the lighter shale above is interrupted by a fossil tree stump.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. D3) In the clammy depths of a southern Illinois coal mine lies the largest fossil forest ever discovered, at least 50 times as extensive as the previous contender.
. . .
“Effectively you’ve got a lost world,” said Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleontologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, who has explored the site. “It’s the closest thing you’ll find to time travel,” he added.
. . .
The reach of the Springfield forest should allow scientists to undertake ecosystem-wide analyses in a way never before possible in landscapes so ancient, and such studies may help them predict the effects of global warming today.
“With our own CO2 rises and changes in climate,” said Scott D. Elrick, a team member from the Illinois State Geological Survey, “we can look at the past here and say, ‘It’s happened before.’ ”
Today, we burn the scale trees of the Carboniferous by the billions: they have all turned to coal. Newly discovered, the Springfield forest is already crumbling to bits, as coal-mine ceilings quickly do after exposure. But with continued mining, more ceilings are being revealed every day.
“You have to dig to find fossils, going inside the anatomy of the planet,” Dr. Johnson said. “Bill DiMichele realizes he has an entire industry digging for him, creating a tunnel into an ancient world.”

For the full story, see:
W. BARKSDALE MAYNARD. “An Underground Fossil Forest Offers Clues on Climate Change.” The New York Times (Tues., May 1, 2012): D3.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 30, 2012.)

AncientRiverbedMap2012-06-12.jpgSource of map graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

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