Fossilized Forest May Sprout Again In The Arctic

By Amir Khan on September 24, 2012 1:56 PM EDT

Antarctica
A fossilized forest that flourished in the cold temperatures of the Arctic 2.5 million years ago may one day return thanks to global warming, according to research presented at the Canadian Paleontology Conference in Toronto. (Photo: NASA)

A fossilized forest that flourished in the cold temperatures of the Arctic 2.5 million years ago may one day return thanks to global warming, according to research presented at the Canadian Paleontology Conference in Toronto.

While the forest won't be sprouting up overnight, the ever-changing climate makes the forest's return a real possibility. By the year 2100, the uninhabited Bylot Island, where the fossilized forest was discovered, will likely return, researchers said.

"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," Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier, lead researcher from the University of Montreal, told LiveScience. "The main plant diversity also seems to be similar between these two environments."

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Researchers analyzed fossilized wood samples and the soil surrounding the forest to nail down a specific time period for when the forest grew. The samples show that the forest thrived between 2.6 and 3 million years ago, when the weather was much what experts predict an Earth affected by climate change would have.

The trees in the ancient forest grew in an area with an average temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Currently, Bylot Island's average temperature is around 5 degrees Fahrenheit, but is rapidly warming due to climate change

"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 biggest obstacle is not the frigid cold, but simply the trees migrating up there, DeSantis said.

"The question is whether those trees will be able to make it up there," she said. "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."

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