News / Science & Technology

Mummified Forest Reveals Clues About Climate Change

Warming temperatures and retreating glacial ice sheets expose land where ancient forests once stood

Mummified tree remains, dating back between 2 and 10 million years, were discovered on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic.
Mummified tree remains, dating back between 2 and 10 million years, were discovered on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic.

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

A discovery of a mummified forest that's between two and 10 million years old is giving scientists a new window on climate change.

Joel Barker, a research scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center at the Ohio State University, discovered the mummified forest in 2009. He says a forest ranger on a remote Island in the Canadian Arctic pointed out a stick in the mud in an otherwise barren landscape.  

"And sure enough there was all this wood debris at the bottom of this valley," Barker says.

The Ellesmere Island site is one of about a dozen in the Canadian Arctic where warming temperatures and reduced snowfall have caused the glacial ice sheets to retreat and expose land where ancient forests once stood.  Barker says what makes this particular forest site unique is that it was so far north.

"To find the source of where this stuff was coming from was pretty exciting. And then to sort of dig in the soil and find leaves, much like the leaves that you'd find in the Spring sort of emerging from a melting snow pack. They look sort of weathered, but you can pick them up and they are still leaves you are holding in your hands from a couple of million years ago."  

Barker says these mummified trees - unlike petrified or fossilized wood - didn't decompose or turn to stone. He suspects they were buried suddenly by a massive landslide and entombed in the dry, airless soil.  "So, you take away water.  You take away oxygen. Things get preserved," he says.  

The ancient forest debris looks much as nature left it. The birch, pine and spruce logs, branches and leaves from long ago are remarkably well-preserved, and it's easy to see that they don't match the hardy scrub growing in the Arctic today.  The mummified woods more closely resemble the trees found in forests now hundreds of kilometers south.  

Ocean sediment cores and the absence of the previously common Metasequoia redwood known to have lived in the region 10 million years ago date the newly-found arctic forest to between two and 10 million years.  Barker says the low species diversity is a sign of an ecosystem on the edge of extinction.

The ancient forest was discovered in a valley that today is largely barren landscape.
The ancient forest was discovered in a valley that today is largely barren landscape.

"This forest existed at a time when the Arctic was cooling and climate was deteriorating very quickly.  And so I think this allows us, by looking at the mummified remains, to see how the ecosystem responded to the cooling, how rapidly the cooling occurred and to maybe identify any thresholds that were reached. And once we identify those thresholds, we can start making predictions about how quickly the ecosystem will respond to future warming."  

The growth rings on some trees put their age at about 75 years old when they were suddenly buried. Barker notes that the branches appear spindly, with very narrow rings, suggesting the trees were suffering a great deal of stress when they were alive. The polar scientist plans to do further analysis with chemical and DNA testing. His preliminary findings were presented this week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs