Fossil Forest Paper Draws Discovery Channel Interest

A fossilized tree limb and branches with leaves.The Discovery Channel plans to produce a television program on fossil plants in coal-bearing rocks, starring a scientist from the Smithsonian Institute and two Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) geologists. This production was stimulated by the widespread publicity generated by their recent paper in Geology on the underground fossil forest in Vermilion County, Illinois.

ISGS staff met two agents from the Discovery Channel at coal mines where filming is being proposed. The mines are Five Star Mining Company's Prosperity Mine, an underground mine near Princeton, Indiana, and Vigo Coal Company's Friendsville Mine, a surface mine near Mt. Carmel, Illinois. The overall theme of the production is the ecological change that took place during the Pennsylvanian age. At the time of the Springfield Coal, as seen in the Prosperity Mine, the peat-forming forest was dominated by giant lycopod trees. Roughly 5 million years later, when the Upper Pennsylvanian coal beds being mined at Friendsville were formed, the giant lycopods had disappeared from North America, and tree ferns became dominant. The show will revolve around climate change and other factors that might have brought about this change in vegetation.

The Discovery Channel people visited the Survey, where staff members discussed using a long (800 to 1,000 feet) drill core from the ISGS Geological Samples Library to illustrate the occurrence of multiple coal beds in cyclical succession. The Discovery Channel plans to film during the week of September 4, 2007, including one day at the ISGS and the rest at the mines.