"These trees lived at a particularly rough time in the Arctic," Barker explained. "Ellesmere Island was quickly changing from a warm deciduous forest environment to an evergreen environment, on its way to the barren scrub we see today. The trees would have had to endure half of the year in darkness and in a cooling climate. That's why the growth rings show that they grew so little, and so slowly."
Colleagues at the University of Minnesota identified the wood from the deposit, and pollen analysis at a commercial laboratory in Calgary, Alberta revealed that the trees lived approximately 2 to 8 million years ago, during the Neogene Period. The pollen came from only a handful of plant species, which suggests that Arctic biodiversity had begun to suffer during that time as well.
The team is now working to identify other mummified plants at the site, scanning the remains under microscopes to uncover any possible seeds or insect remains.
Now that the forest is exposed, it's begun to rot, which means that it's releasing carbon into the atmosphere, where it can contribute to global warming.
Team member David Elliot, professor emeritus of earth sciences at Ohio State, said that the mummified forest on Ellesmere Island doesn't pose an immediate threat to the environment, though.
"I want to be clear -- the carbon contained in the small deposit we've been studying is trivial compared to what you produce when you drive your car," he said. "But if you look at this find in the context of the whole Arctic, then that is a different issue. I would expect other isolated deposits to be exposed as the ice melts, and all that biomass is eventually going to return t
|Contact: Joel Barker|
Ohio State University