The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

January 19, 2013

Explore the secrets of Danville’s petrified rainforest

BY MARY KAY SWEIKAR
Commercial-News

DANVILLE — The public is invited to a presentation at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Danville Public Library community room, where they will learn the who, what and why of the 300-million-year-old fossilized rainforest near Danville.

The Danville Garden Club will host Scott Elrick, who’s with the Illinois State Geological Survey Department at the University of Illinois, as a speaker for one of its regular meetings.

Elrick, who was part of the initial discovery of the forest in 2007, will present a whirlwind tour of this phenomenon with narrative and photos.

The petrified forest is found in the Herrin coal seam that runs through both the Vermilion Grove mine and the Riola mine in eastern Illinois.

Elrick described what it was like to be in the mine and look up at the forest. “It’s the worm’s-eye view,” he said. “You’re looking up at what the floor of the forest looked like.”

Elrick pointed out that this is the world’s largest intact petrified rain forest. At 4 square miles in area, its sheer size offers an unprecedented view of ancient forest life and diversity. “This forest is significantly bigger than others that were discovered in the past,” Elrick said.

“Danville’s petrified forest is unique because the encapsulated forest is intact on the roof of the mine, just like any forest that you would see today,” he added. “We have learned so much about the variability of the plants and their relationship to each other.”

The discovery process required repeated visits by geologists to the petrified forest since 2007.

“I want to particularly recognize Peabody Energy for their cooperation in allowing the Geological Survey to explore this area over the years, and for always keeping us safe during the process,” Elrick said.

Five petrified forests in addition to the Danville one have been discovered by the international research team. These six tracts span a period of about 2 million years near the end of the Carboniferous period, 359 to 299 million years ago.

The finds represent the earliest rainforests to appear on earth and date back to eras just before and after periods of intense global warming, according to the study leaders.

This presentation will meet one of the Garden Club’s goals to study environmental issues, climate and horticulture, according to Mary Kay Hamer, president.

“We are pleased to open up this presentation to the public because the fossilized rainforest is an important part of Danville’s history,” she said.