Friday, September 11, 2015

The Floating Forests of the Carboniferous

I don't know if anyone else has sensed the change, but as the month of September approaches, things tend to get a little colder! Even here in Utah, we feel the chill. Today was the first day I actually felt nippy coming outside this morning. Brrr! And the cold means something really special is coming up: Harvest Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, my birthday! The best holidays of the year are coming up real soon!

Days till:
It is: 12 days till the first day of Fall
It is: 75 days till The Good Dinosaur's theatrical release
It is: 31 days till Columbus Day

In the Spotlight:
Unfortunately, I have nothing to share in this section today either.

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
The Carboniferous was an ancient habitat of the pre-Flood world with a unique set of plants and animals not seen today.
Giant tree-like plants, a bog-like environment, and giant insects, arthropods and other strange animals unlike anything we have alive today – these are just some of the many wonders of the pre-Flood ecosystem known as the Carboniferous forests. Unlike modern ecosystems, the Carboniferous forests was one of the original ecosystems God created only 6,000 years ago or so that was destroyed by the Genesis Flood about 4,350 years ago. But perhaps one of the strangest things about the Carboniferous forests was that they weren't located inland like forests of today – instead, these forests grew from continent-sized masses of vegetation that floated on the ocean! Welcome to the floating forests of the Carboniferous.

The Floating Forest of the Carboniferous was a home to many species of plants and animals. (PHOTO CREDITS)

A forest that floats across the ocean? Even though it sounds like something out of Peter Pan, these incredible habitats actually existed until about 4,350 years ago. But before we learn more about the floating forest, we must establish what the Carboniferous actually is? To find that out, we have to know our geology. The earth contains several different rock layers with different sets of fossil animals and plants. Scientific evidence shows most of these rock layers (Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous) were deposited during the global Flood of Noah's time, reflecting not the history of life on earth, but rather an order of burial as the flood's watery carnage rose and eventually conquered the land.

If Carboniferous doesn't sound English to you, that's because it isn't. It's actually composed of two Latin words: carbō (which means “coal”) and ferō (which means “I bear, I carry”), in essence, meaning “coal carrier”. This rock layer is perhaps one of the most important to human kind because, as its name suggests, it provided us with a material that helped us progress into the future: coal! Even though the use of coal as fuel is being looked down upon today (due to all the pollution it causes), it's been used for thousands of years; even the ancient Chinese people mined for this material. It is thanks to coal that the Industrial Revolution came about. Contrary to popular belief, coal, oil and fossil fuels don't actually come from dead dinosaurs, but from the remains of dead plants. If all the vegetation we have on earth today was turned into coal, it would only equal around 3% of how much coal the earth contains! So there must have been a lot of plant life all over the world in ancient days, and that's exactly what the fossil evidence suggests!

Coal and other fossil fuels don't actually come from dead dinosaurs; they actually come from compressed plant matter. (Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to loads and loads of coal, we also find numerous plant fossils in Carboniferous rocks. Most (if not all) of these plants have two things in common:
  1. They are often found in marine sediments and associated with marine animals.
  2. The roots, trunks and rootlets of these plants were hollow, and the roots of these plants grew outward rather than straight down, like most plants.
These two characteristics are features of plants that are designed for floating on water. Paleontologist  Dr. Kurt Wise noticed this, and he put his theory forward that the pre-Flood world hosted huge mats of floating forests that existed atop the shallow seas fringing coastlines of some regions of the earth's original supercontinent Rodinia (it would later break up and reform into the supercontinent of Pangaea during the Flood, only to once again break up, this time into today's seven continents). It has been suggested that floating forests covered over half of the pre-Flood world's ocean surface. Ecosystems with floating vegetation aren't restricted to the pre-Flood world though – modern quaking bogs bare resemblance to these floating forests, but are far smaller. When floating forests are added to the equation, around 75% of earth's surface was mushrooming with plant life, compared to the six times less-lush planet we have today. So movies taking place in pre-Flood times (e.g. Darren Aronofsky's Noah, a film I do not condone) should really have lush, almost tropical environments rather than barren wastelands.

Believe it or not, this was what earth looked like between 6,000 and 4,350 years ago! (PHOTO CREDITS)
We've talked a lot about how lush these floating forests are, but not so much about what kinds of plants we would have seen had we been able to journey to this ecosystem. Well, in modern quaking bogs, the “ground” is made up of peat – a soil-like material composed of decomposed vegetable matter. Perhaps the floating forests vegetation mat was made up of something similar. The edges of the vegetation mat the forest floated upon was thinner, covered in smaller plants (many from the Devonian rock layers) and likely also possessed shallow pools which provided homes for many animals (we'll get to them in a minute). It isn't until you venture further into the forest where you meet the giants of the Carboniferous world – giant ferns, giant horsetails and conifers were common, but they were dwarfed by giant  lycopod “trees” (actually giant relatives of tiny, modern club mosses!), which had no branches and could grow over 100 feet into the air!

Giant ferns, horsetails and conifers were common in the Carboniferous; some Carboniferous trees grew over 100 feet tall! (Wikimedia Commons)
But these Carboniferous floating forests were not inhabited by plants alone; an entire host of animals existed here too. Perhaps the most notable are the arthropods – segmented invertebrates with hard exoskeletons. In the pools of water beneath the great trees you would have discovered strange creatures such as Megarachne. Its name means “giant spider” and lends mention to the fact that this creature was once incorrectly considered a giant spider until relatively recently. However, fossil discoveries have revealed that Megarachne was actually a species of eurypterid, or “sea scorpion” that grew the size of a human head!
Once thought to be a giant spider, Megarachne was a species of sea scorpion. (Wikimedia Commons)
Another inhabitant of the shallow bodies of water on the forest floor was the amphibian-like fish, Tiktaalik. What made this fish unique was its ability to drag itself out of the water to like the modern lungfish via its powerful front fins. It could probably breathe air as well. These two features helped it move from pool to pool to access new living space or a new potential food source. Evolutionists have long tried to make Tiktaalik a transitional form between fish and land-dwelling tetrapods because it had features of both groups. In truth however, God perfectly designed Tiktaalik for its habitat in the floating forest*.

Tiktaalik was a fish capable of traversing between pools of water thanks to its powerful fins and (potential) ability to breathe air. It was perfectly designed for the Floating Forests. (Wikimedia Commons)
* One of the problems with the idea that Tiktaalik was the transitional form between fish and tetrapods is that it been found in rocks above the tetrapods it allegedly evolved into (it would be kind of hard for Tiktaalik to be its descendants offspring!).

Petrolacosaurus was a small lizard like creature.

In the floating forests themselves, other creatures would have been seen. Some were amphibians, like Proterogyrinus (imagine a sharp-toothed salamander over seven feet long), and others were small reptiles, like the lizard-like Petrolacosaurus. Strangest of all the floating forest-dwellers however were still the arthropods. Mayflies are one of the several insect species found here, and they look very much like modern mayflies do today. Crawling along the ground were giant cockroaches, some of which 3.5 inches in length (that's twice as big as the ones that we squish and spray today). Feeding upon smaller arthropods (and perhaps small amphibians and reptiles), were the much more sightly dragonflies. These dragonflies were almost identical to the ones that hover in the air today, except for one thing: they were giants! With a wingspan of over 2 ½ feet, the gull-sized Meganeura was one of the largest of them all. Like modern dragonflies, Meganeura was probably swift and agile in the air, capable of reaching speeds in excess of 30 mph!

Meganeura was a monster dragonfly; with a wingspan of 2 1/2 feet, it was the largest flying insect ever! (Wikimedia Commons)
While Meganeura preyed upon things above ground, hunting terrestrially was Pulmonoscorpius, one of the largest scorpions of all time. It grew almost three feet long and had a stinger the size of a light bulb. Not a critter you'd like to bump into in the middle of the night! All these aforementioned giant insects and other arthropods lived in the company of a true giant. Meet the enormous millipede Arthropleura – it grew six to eight feet from head to tail. Thankfully, this monster was an herbivore, feeding on vegetation, such as ferns. Arthropleura has always been a personal favorite of mine. As we've seen, many strange and wonderful creepy crawlies, amphibians and reptiles once called the floating forests home.

Arthropleura was a giant millipede six to eight feet long. Thankfully, this creature was a plant eater. (Wikimedia Commons)
Alas, as beautiful as the Carboniferous floating forest was, it was not to last. 4,350 years ago, the Genesis Flood changed the earth forever. Tsunami-like waves would have ravaged the floating forests, tearing them apart, burying countless plants and animals under sediment and stripping the forests' trees of their bark. Many of these trees continued to float in the ocean for some time before they too were buried. Then, thanks to great temperature and pressure the trees and other plants experienced under the ground they made the extraordinary transformation from plants into the coal we burn today within just months (there is a lot of evidence that goes against the belief that coal takes millions of years to form).

The fossils of plants, giant dragonflies, millipedes, scorpions and other animals we find in Carboniferous rocks are a reminder of just how devastating the Flood was – after all, according to Genesis 6:11-13, God sent the Flood upon earth as a judgment upon the sin we produced that had blemished the earth. It is only because of fossils that we are able to “travel back in time” to see what those beautiful, floating forests of the Carboniferous might have been like, more than 4,350 years ago. What a sight they would have been to see!

Remains of those Carboniferous giants can only be found in the fossil record.


Disclaimer: Many (or in some cases all) of the photographs and images above are not mine. If you own one or more of them and would like them to be removed, politely let me know via my email address.

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