June 14, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Huge Forest Fossilized Suddenly

Nature1 had some interesting comments about the fossil forest found in a coal mine a few months ago (see 04/23/2007).  Kirk Johnson of the Denver Museum of Natural History said that a vast area (over 3.8 square miles) must have been inundated quickly for this fossil graveyard to be preserved.

Rapid burial can result from various mechanisms.  In the case of the Illinois forest, which grew in a coastal mire, local tectonic subsidence dropped the forest floor to sea level quickly enough for the plants to be preserved in place.  The rate of this type of subsidence is difficult to measure, but DiMichele et al. argue that it must have occurred within two months to provide the quality of preservation seen in the mine.

Rapid burial is required, because “Dispersed plant parts are rapidly recycled by soil organisms and reduced to their organic constituents within months,” he said.  “Well-preserved palaeobotanical remains are therefore direct evidence of rapid burial below the level of destructive processes occurring in soils.”
    What mechanism could suddenly plunge 3.8 square miles of forest under the sea?  Johnson proposed that an earthquake did it: “local tectonic subsidence dropped the forest floor to sea level quickly enough for the plants to be preserved in place.”
    Other known fossil forests were buried by volcanic ash.  In those cases, radiometric dating can be used, he said.  The rest of the article dealt with attempts by geochronologists and plant biologists to calibrate the geologic column.  Johnson claimed it is becoming possible to pinpoint rapid events within their geological period.  In that context, he said, in conclusion: “Just because something happened a long time ago does not mean it took a long time to happen.
    A paper on the Pennsylvanian-era fossil forest (located in Illinois) was published in the May issue of Geology.2  See also two popular news reports replicated with a picture here, and reports on National Geographic and BBC News.


1Kirk R. Johnson, “Paleobotany: Forests frozen in time,” Nature 447, 786-787 (14 June 2007) | doi:10.1038/447786a.
2DiMichele et al, “Ecological gradients within a Pennsylvanian mire forest,” Geology, May 2007, pp. 415�418, DOI: 10.1130/G23472A.1.

Two months; that’s about right.  Can any uniformitarian point to a place on earth where nearly 4 square miles of forest sunk intact into an ocean in two months or less?  If not, let’s try a new maxim: “The past is the key to the present.”  It’s interesting that any kind of exotic catastrophe is OK to geologists and evolutionary paleontologists these days – as long it was not a global flood.  The worldwide instance of bizarre fossil graveyards (e.g., 02/02/2004) should re-open old questions long abandoned by the disciples of Lawyer Lyell (see 05/22/2003).
    This amazing fossilized forest provides an opportunity for creationists to do independent research.  Perhaps the fossil bed is even larger than 3.8 square miles.  Someone should try to access the raw data, or even observe the site directly, to learn more about an intact ecology that was rapidly submerged, and to study the means of inundation.  Access to uncontaminated samples to look for evidence of remnant carbon-14 would also be interesting.  That’s the kind of evidence an evolutionary geologist would not even pursue because he or she already “knows” the forest is 300 million years old and all carbon-14 would have long ago decayed.  Let’s ask some original questions.

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Categories: Fossils

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