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Old 23-09-12, 17:11   #1
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Default Fossil Forest May Sprout Again as the Arctic Warms

Fossil Forest May Sprout Again as the Arctic Warms.
By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor

A fossilized forest that flourished more than 2.5 million years ago could return to life thanks to a warming planet, scientists say.

The paleo-scene won't sprout up overnight, of course, said Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier of the University of Montreal, who will present his research at the Canadian Paleontology Conference in Toronto this week.

Rather, he said, climate forecasts suggest that, by 2100, the now-uninhabited Bylot Island where the fossilized forest was discovered will support temperatures similar to those prevalent when the forest thrived.

An ancient forest once flourished on the Canadian Arctic's Bylot Island (shown here), and researchers say global warming may revive it.
CREDIT: Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier

Bylot Island where the fossilized forest was discovered will support temperatures similar to those prevalent when the forest thrived.

"The fossil forest found in Bylot Island probably looked like the ones actually found in the [present-day] south of Alaska, where tree-line boreal forest grows near some glacier margins," Guertin-Pasquier wrote in an email. "The main plant diversity also seems to be similar between these two environments," which both include willow, pine and spruce trees.

He and his colleagues analyzed samples of wood that had been preserved in the area's peat and permafrost. They specifically looked for pollen, which would reveal the types of trees growing in the area at the time.

A typical peat and wood sample collected from the ancient forest on Bylot Island.
CREDIT: Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier

To help nail down a specific date when growth occurred, the researchers analyzed the sediments laid down at the time the forest lived. They specifically looked at magnetic particles found in the soil, particularly magnetite. This works because, throughout our planet's history, the orientation of the magnetic north pole changed several times, a well-documented phenomenon. Since these "magnetic sediments" line up with Earth's magnetic orientation, scientists can use this to date the sediment layers.

They estimate the forest thrived between 2.6 million and 3 million years ago.

The trees in the ancient forest, as interpreted from the pollen samples, usually grew in areas with a yearly average temperature of about 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), Guertin-Pasquier said. Currently, average temperatures on Bylot Island hover around 5 degrees F (minus-15 degrees C), he added.

Will our grandchildren actually see this forest come to life?

"I think it's very possible we might see forest compositions of the past returning with warming," Larisa R. G. DeSantis who was not involved in the study told LiveScience. "The question is whether those trees will be able to make it up there," DeSantis said, adding that in some ways it's a lot easier for animals to migrate to different conditions.

"But trees have another whole level of difficulty, their potential for movement is based on their dispersal of seeds and that sort of thing, so their movement is constrained," said DeSantis, who studies, among other topics, the reconstruction of ancient environments, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Fossil forests of a similar age have also been found on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, where so-called "mummy trees" were uncovered in the wake of a melting glacier. The spindly, mummified trees showed signs of stress, likely the result of a changing climate (from a greenhouse to an icehouse, of sorts) as well as the seasonal darkness occurring at the top of the world.

That, in fact, is one of the mysteries surrounding these Arctic forests, "how these trees managed to survive the relentless dark of the Arctic winter," Guertin-Pasquier said.

Next, the researchers plan to look more closely at other plant remains from Bylot Island to get a better idea of the possibly diverse flora.
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Old 24-09-12, 04:11   #2
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Default Re: Fossil Forest May Sprout Again as the Arctic Warms

Fascinating report BlueRose and thanks for it. I wanted to know more about Bylot Island and found out it was a Bird Sanctuary...more info here, I have left the live links in as the surrounding Islands are interesting too.

Bylot Island

  • Terra MODIS
  • 31 July 2006
  • 17:30 UTC
At 11,067 kmē in area, Bylot Island is the largest of the several hundred offshore islands and islets that surround the 507,451 kmē Baffin Island. Nestled into the northeastern coastline of its much larger southern neighbour, Bylot Island is separated from the Borden Peninsula of the Baffin Island mainland by the 9-12 km km wide Navy Board Channel on the west, by the Pond Inlet on the east and by the Eclipse Sound on the southeast and south; its northern shores face the open waters of Baffin Bay. The island has a diamond-like shape, measuring 180 km from east to west and 110 km from north to south.

The northern two-thirds of the island are mountainous — forming part of the Arctic Cordillera mountain chain that extends for 1,300 km northeastwards from the Torngat Mountains on the fringes of the Labrador Peninsula in the southeast, through eastern Baffin Island and across much of Ellesmere Island in the northeast. In this particular region the Arctic Cordillera forms the Byam Martin Mountains, extending east to west across the island. Malik Mountain, located near the island's centre, is the highest point at 1,905 m above sea level. Sharp peaks and ridges, divided by deep glacier-filled valleys are typical features across this area of Bylot Island. Some 4,800 kmē of the island is covered by glaciers. Many of these terminate on the lowland plains of the south or on the northern coastal lowlands, with only a few reaching the sea (Bylot Island's glaciers, emerging from the highlands on to the lowlands, are particularly prominent in the large size image). The southern reaches of the island comprise a low-lying, post-glacial, plain of some 1,600 kmē in area that gently slopes to the highlands of the central mountains.

Most of the island, except for a few coastal patches, is protected (since 2001) by the 22,000 kmē Sirmilik National Park (Canada's third largest); the park also includes the eastern portions of the Borden Peninsula and the area around Oliver Inlet — both on the Baffin Island mainland. The island supports globally important populations of the Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens), and regionally important colonies of Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia) and Black-legged Kittiwake (Riss tridactyla). The southern plains of the island in particular represent an important Arctic ecoregion, with more than 360 species of plants, 10 species of mammal and 74 species of bird.
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