A mummified Arctic forest thought to be more than 2 million years old has been found by researchers in Canada. Displaying evidence of how plants struggled against global cooling it is thought to provide insights into how global warming might progress.

During the summer 2010, researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota funded by the National Science Foundation uncovered trees that were buried by a landslide between 2 and 8 million years ago. The trees were so well preserved providing samples not just of trunks and branches, but also roots and leaves.

Joel Barker, a research scientist at Byrd Polar Research Center and the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio and leader of the team, presented initial research results at an American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on December 17.

“Mummified forests aren’t so uncommon, but what makes this one unique is that it’s so far north. When the climate began to cool 11 million years ago, these plants would have been the first to feel the effects,” according to Barker. “And because the trees’ organic material is preserved, we can get a high resolution of how quickly the climate changed and how the plants responded to that change.”

The most common tree species identified at the site include spruce and birch both of which show evidence of stress. They were at least 75 years old when they died during the Neogene period. This deposit of mummified trees was found unwittingly by Barber while camping on Ellesmere Island when he spotted wood emerging from the the muddy effluent of a melting glacier.

As more Arctic glaciers melt in response to global warming, other ancient forests may well be revealed. Methane will be produced as they rot and decompose over time, contributing in turn to climate change.


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