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KU-led scientific team departs for Antarctic research expedition

Posted on Nov. 12th, 2014
LAWRENCE — Although most people think of Antarctica as a barren, cold environment, 200 million years ago it was a lush forest — a forest that now permineralized can yield clues to the climate change of the past and how plants today may react to current climate change.

An international research team headed by University of Kansas scientists will head to Antarctica this week as part of a project aimed at understanding floral changes during the Jurassic period in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica. The group, departing today, will be on the ground for about one month and plans to blog and post to social media about the experience. The public is invited to follow the team’s work at

As part of this research, the group will examine the Early Jurassic fossil flora and the corresponding paleoenvironments from southern Victoria Land using a combination of geology, geochemistry and paleobotany.

“This research is important in understanding what climate and environment was like at the poles during one of Earth’s past greenhouse climates and how plants responded to both climate changes and instantaneous disruptions through the rise of volcanoes,” said Rudy Serbet, collection manager of paleobotany at KU Biodiversity Institute and one of the team leaders for the trip. “These sorts of times and environmental stresses are key to understanding how current climate change may affect high latitude plants.”

During their time in Antarctica, the researchers will be based at the McMurdo research station but will take several camping field trips “out to the ice,” including the Odell Glacier area and the Allan Hills. The group hopes to share images and experiences from the research station and eventually from the field, where communications technology is limited to satellite phones.

In addition to Serbet, the group is co-lead by geologist Erik L. Gulbranson, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. The group includes KU paleobotany graduate student Carla Harper; geologist Lauren A. Michel from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas; paleobotanist Ignacio Escapa of Argentina; paleobotanist Anne-Laure Decombeix of the French Center for Scientific Research of Montpellier, France; Charles Daghlian of Dartmouth College; and mountaineers Andrew Brown and David Buchanan.

Several other scientists from KU, other U.S. universities and Sweden are also involved in the research project but are not going to Antarctica. The work is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. The university's mission is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world. The KU News Service is the central public relations office for the Lawrence campus.