A recent study published in the journal Geology shared some surprising findings: the icy landscape of Svalbard, Norway was once home to an ancient tropical forest. A group of researchers from Cardiff University found fossilized tree stumps belonging to lycopsids, a tropical tree, during the course of field work in the area.
The trees date back approximately 380 million years, to a time when the continents existed in a very different arrangement from today’s world. At that time, Svalbard was located near the equator rather than its current position near the Arctic, allowing the ancient trees to thrive. Over the millennia, the tectonic plates have shifted to move the land much farther north.
Researchers believe the trees were key to climate change during the Devonian Period. Early in the Earth’s history, the planet was much warmer than it is today — approaching average temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit during the Ordovician and Silurian periods. Forests such as the one found in Svalbard played a crucial role in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, giving way to milder climates that allowed modern life to develop.