300-million-year-old Tropical Forest Captures the Public Eye

Geologist Scott Elrick examines part of the fossil forest.Media attention stemming from the discovery of a fossil forest has been international in scope and still continues. Articles were printed in major newspapers such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the United States and internationally in Journal do Brasil. Internet stories were on all major science news sites, including sciencenews.org, livescience.com, science.com nationalgeographic.com, and as far away as the official Iranian, state-sponsored Internet new site. Interviews were given to area radio stations such as WDAN AM and to national stations CNN radio news, "Day to Day" on National Public Radio, and WDEL talk radio, which serves the East Coast. Television coverage included a morning television appearance on CBS affiliate WCIA Channel 3 news in east-central Illinois and a remote interview (voice only) with Comcast Cable News that broadcast to all of the East Coast. Interest exists for possible articles in a variety of general science magazines, and a science television show has expressed interest in documenting the discovery as well.

The media attention followed publication of the discovery by two geologists from the Coal Section of the Illinois State Geological Survey, in cooperation with geologists from the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and Peabody Energy in Illinois. The publication described a 300-million-year-old Pennsylvanian-age mire forest beneath the flat plains of east-central Illinois in the largest study of its kind. The study investigated extensive, well-preserved plant fossils lying just above the Herrin Coal seam. The fossils stretch over 2,500 football fields (1,000 hectares) in area and represent multiple niches of the forest environment, allowing the scientists to examine the subtle ecology of an ancient forest on an unprecedented scale. The research was able to demonstrate the emergence of ecological gradients at the landscape scale for these ancient forests and show the correctness of previously hypothesized theories about the structure of the Pennsylvanian-age mire forest.