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Fossilized forest holds clues to Arctic's future

  • Author: Laurel Andrews
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published September 20, 2012

A fossilized forest between 2.6 and 3 million years old holds clues to how the Arctic will adapt in face of climate change, Nunatsiaq Online reports.

The forest, located on a plateau on Bylot Island in northern Canada, was discovered in 2001 by a student at the University of Laval who stumbled upon a fossilized branch sticking out of the snow. Erosion from a river bank had apparently washed the branch into the valley where it was found.

The trees were covered in a layer of peat moss and buried under permafrost. The lack of oxygen in the peat moss, along with a quick burial and subsequent stability of permanently frozen ground, helped to keep the forest well-preserved.

Now, University of Montreal graduate student Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier has analyzed the forest and presented his findings at the International Polar Year conference in 2012.

By collecting pollen in the specimens over the course of two years, he was able to create a vivid composite of the climate which existed in one part of the Arctic over 2 million years ago – it was warmer, more humid, and contained trees similar to today's pine, spruce and willow trees.

The climate conditions uncovered by Guertin-Pasquier's analysis match what climate models predict for the end of this century. This means that trees could inch their way north as they adapt to the changing climate.

Evidence of trees sprouting up on the Arctic tundra already exists, as dwarf willows and alders have responded to rising summer temperatures in ways that have surprised scientists. But Guertin-Pasquier's findings suggest that trees not currently present in Arctic locales may slowly travel back to their ancient roots.

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