Alaska Glacier Thaws: Astonishing Ancient Forest Revealed As Global Warming Debate Continues [REPORT]

By Danny Choy on September 23, 2013 4:59 PM EDT

Alaska glacier thaws
Alaska Mendenhall Glacier thaws to unveil forest more than 1,000 years old. (Photo: Creative Commons)

An Alaska glacier thaws, revealing an astonishing ancient forest that has been hidden underneath for at least 1,000 years. The Mendenhall Glacier is a 36.8 square mile river of ice that flows into a lake. Surveyors first began to notice logs and tree stumps poking from the ice about 50 years ago. After half a century of change, scientists from University of Alaska Southwest began to see even more logs until they realized the significance of what lied underneath.         

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"There are a lot of them, and being in a growth position is exciting because we can see the outermost part of the tree and count back to see how old the tree was," said University of Alaska Southeast geology professor Cathy Connor. "Mostly, people find chunks of wood helter-skelter, but to see these intact upright is kind of cool." 

Connor's team investigated the ancient forest by conducting radiocarbon testing to determine its age. According to researchers, the Alaska glacier forest is 1,000 years old and older. Of the radiocarbon tests, the oldest tree tested was an estimated 2,350 years old. Scientists determined that a four to five feet layer of gravel allowed to encase the trees before it was consumed by the glacier. This was how the stumps were preserved in the glacier even though many of the limbs snapped off.

"These are relict stories, and piecing them together with radiocarbon dating and stratigraphic work would help piece together the chapters of the story," Connor said. Research results have yet to be published as the team continues to gather further data before releasing an official report.

Despite the remarkable discovery of a forest within a from a glacier, the thawing of the Alaska Glacier is a red flag that could mean trouble for climate change. As the Alaska glacier thaws, neighboring towns suffer threats of flooding. What's more, the melting glacier and shifting ice poses dangers for ships as well. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said this about global warming last month: "The climate is changing and we need to adapt to that change and make sure communities are prepared." 

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