SAN FRANCISCO -- The northernmost mummified forest ever found in Canada is revealing how plants struggled to endure a long-ago global cooling.
Researchers believe the trees -- buried by a landslide and exquisitely preserved 2 to 8 million years ago -- will help them predict how today's Arctic will respond to global warming.
They also suspect that many more mummified forests could emerge across North America as Arctic ice continues to melt. As the wood is exposed and begins to rot, it could release significant amounts of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere -- and actually boost global warming.
Joel Barker, a research scientist at Byrd Polar Research Center and the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University and leader of the team that is analyzing the remains, will describe early results at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Friday, December 17.
Over the summer of 2010, the researchers retrieved samples from broken tree trunks, branches, roots, and even leaves -- all perfectly preserved -- from Ellesmere Island National Park in Canada.
"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," Barker said. "And because the trees' organic material is preserved, we can get a high-resolution view of how quickly the climate changed and how the plants responded to that change."
Barker found the deposit in 2009, when he was camping on Ellesmere Island for an unrelated research project. He followed a tip from a national park warden, who had noticed some wood sticking out of the mud next to a melting glacier. This summer, he returned with colleagues for a detailed study of the area.
Analysis of the remains has only just begun, but will include chemical and DNA testing.
For now, the researchers have iden
|Contact: Joel Barker|
Ohio State University