More on those Arctic trees

18 Mar 2011

At www.physorg.com/print219594362.html ... a buried forest was discovered after wood was found on the ground near a glacier. Earth scientist Joel Barker spotted some wood scattered on ground near a glacier and found the remains of trees that had once grown on Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic. Nowadays, the Hazen Plateau in Quttinirpaaq National Park is a tundra and glacier landscape, a pretty desolate kind of place where temperatures regularly fall below 50 degrees of freezing. It is thought the mummified tree remains lived millions of years ago - when the Arctic was warm. Has the Arctic ever been warm? In addition, it is thought the trees were buried in a landslide - what else could have toppled them and engulfed them very quickly and sealed them from the effects of oxygen? The trees appear to be perfectly preserved - even the leaves. This is why they are said to be mummified. At the moment only some wood has been exposed but it is hoped they will be able to get diggers in and unearth what might be a preserved intact forest environment from way back when. However, for the moment it is thought that conditions when the trees were living were not that good as the preserved wood appears to have a series of narrow growth rings that denote environmental distress of some kind - but what? Narrow rings are not just a sign of low temperatures, or the onset of cold weather but can also denote lack of precipitation and dryness, or loading of the atmosphere. A variety of reasons in fact and Barker recognises that it is only the unearthing of more of the forest which will clarify the situation. He says that ocean core sediments off Ellesmere Island appear to indicate the trees must be at least 2 million years of age. However, this is not actually certain as even in the medieval period there were trees of some kind growing on Greenland, somewhat to the south it is true, but vegetation had to be growing there otherwise the Viking settlers would not have called it Greenland and would not have been able to build wooden houses. Mummified forests have also been found on Greenland and elsewhere in the Canadian Arctic, and while some of them will date millions of years ago there is no reason why some will not be more recent. The biggest hurdle to a former warm status for Ellesmere Island is the fact that it is in darkness for three months of the year - could trees survive such an environment?