September 22, 2012
Vanished Ancient Forest Could Return With Global Warming
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Bylot Island, in the Canadian Nunavut territory, is one of the largest uninhabited islands in the world. A study by Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier of the University of Montreal's Department of Geography reveals that the ancient forests recently discovered on Bylot Island could one day return because of global climate changes.
Guertin-Pasquier presented his findings at the Canadian Paleontology Conference in Toronto on September 21.
"According to the data model, climate conditions on Bylot Island will be able to support the kinds of trees we find in the fossilized forest that currently exist there, such as willow, pine and spruce. I've also found evidence of a possible growth of oak and hickory near the study site during this period," Guertin-Pasquier said.
"Although it would of course take time for a whole forest to regrow, the findings show that our grandchildren should be able to plant a tree and watch it grow."
Bylot's fossilized forest is between 2.6 and 3 million years old according to estimates based on the presence of extinct species and paleomagnetic analyses, which looks at how the Earth's magnetic field has affected the magnetic sediment in rocks. Like a compass, these sediments turn to follow the magnetic poles. The history of the magnetic poles is relatively well known, so Pasquier was able to use this information to date the rocks.
Samples of wood from the ancient forest are preserved throughout the area in peat and by permafrost.
"We studied the sediments in the forest and discovered pollen that are usually found in climates where the annual average temperature is around 0 degrees Celsius or 32 Fahrenheit," Guertin-Pasquier said.
Bylot Island is much colder than those temperatures, averaging around -15°C (5°F). The samples were taken from 4-inch diameter drill holes ranging from 3 to 6 meters deep. The remote location and harsh Arctic winters mean that researchers have a very small window of opportunity for studying the ancient forest. Even at the height of summer, Guertin-Pasquier and his colleagues had to endure extreme conditions, including 80 km/h winds.
"There is so much mystery that surrounds this forest — for example, how these trees managed to survive the relentless dark of the Arctic winter," he said.
The next step for Guertin-Pasquier's research could include looking more closely at other plant remains to gain a better understanding of what the local flora was like.