Today, the archipelago of Svalbard sits between the Norwegian coast and the North Pole, experiencing freezing temperatures as low as -16°C. During the Devonian period, however, this region was located near the equator.
Fossilized tree stumps found on Svalbard show that a tropical forest thrived there 380 million years ago, when the climate was much warmer and the region was far from the poles. These trees were mainly lycopods: extinct plants that were adapted to living in swampy regions. Such forests have been found in other formerly equatorial locations like New York, and seem to have been widespread around ancient Earth.
The trees can tell us about more than just the climate at the time, however. Researchers have linked the appearance of such abundant early forests to big changes in the atmosphere’s composition and the planet’s average temperature.