Mummified forest in Canada yields climate clues

Washington, Dec 16 (ANI): Researchers at the Ohio State University have discovered a mummified forest in northernmost Canada which is giving clues on how plants struggled to endure ancient 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 of the Ohio State University led the team that analyzed the remains.

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.

"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," said Barker.

Barker first found the deposit in 2009, when he was camping on Ellesmere Island for an unrelated research project.

The researchers have identified the species of the most common trees at the site-spruce and birch. The trees were at least 75 years old when they died, but spindly, with very narrow growth rings and under-sized leaves that suggest they were suffering a great deal of stress when they were alive.

"These trees lived at a particularly rough time in the Arctic. 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," said Barker.

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.

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.

The findings would be presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. (ANI)

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