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Individual Highlight

Fossil Forests of Ethiopia Suggest Region’s late Oligocene Climate was Wetter Than Today

Photo of This fossil forest in Ethiopia once had a very different climate. John Kappelman, University of TexasThis fossil forest in Ethiopia once had a very different climate. John Kappelman, University of TexasSnapshot : Don’t believe in climate change? Check out the woods from this Oligocene forest in Ethiopia.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Wiemann, Michael C. 
Research Location : Gondor, Ethiopia, and Madison, Wisconsin
Research Station : Forest Products Laboratory (FPL)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 915


One of the more exciting uses of wood anatomy is the determination of paleoclimate, and the reconstruction of ancient forest structure. In the Gondar region of Ethiopia, which is now dominated by pasture and sparse woodland, a Forest Service scientist and his university colleagues used wood anatomy to identify the “nearest living relatives” of some 80 in situ silicified trees and logs, demonstrating that 27 million years ago, the region was covered with large forest trees. The 30 genera comprising the trees and logs are today found in woodlands or rain forests across Africa, with only six genera still found in the Gondar region. Based on wood physiognomy, the scientists hypothesize that to support the forest physiognomy represented, the climate of the northern Ethiopian Highlands during the late Oligocene had to have been wetter, with a much shorter dry season, than it experiences today.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Aaron Pan, Don Harrington Discovery Center, Amarillo.
  • Bonnie Jacobs, Southern Methodist University, Dallas
  • John Kappelman, University of Texas, Austin

Program Areas