Alaska Glacier Thaws, Reveals Ancient Forest Underneath, 1000 Years Old

Image: Alaska Glacier Thaws, Reveals Ancient Forest Underneath, 1000 Years Old

Monday, 23 Sep 2013 11:29 AM

By Alexandra Ward

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An ancient Alaskan forest that has been covered by a glacier for more than 1,000 years has started to emerge, now that the mass of ice is beginning to thaw.

Researchers from the University of Alaska Southeast discovered that trees and stumps — some still in their original upright positions with the roots still intact — are buried underneath the Mendenhall Glacier, which spans 36.8-square miles near Juneau, LiveScience reported.

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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," Cathy Connor, a geology professor at the University of Alaska Southeast who was involved in the investigation, told LiveScience. "Mostly, people find chunks of wood helter-skelter, but to see these intact upright is kind of cool."

Based on trunk diameter, the scientists hypothesize that the trees are most likely hemlock or spruce. They believe that the trees probably survived because they were surrounded by a "tomb" of gravel before the ice encapsulated them.

Researchers were also presented with the rare opportunity to study in real time what happens when a glacier forms, as the Taku Glacier just south of Juneau is currently advancing on a modern forest of cottonwood trees, LiveScience reported.

While the researchers are excited about their new discovery, some locals are worried about the Mendenhall Glacier thawing because it could contribute to the threat of rising sea levels and could also affect the supply of drinking water. Many cities in Alaska, like Anchorage for example, rely entirely on the glaciers for drinking water.

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Related stories:

9-Year-Old Boy's Body Found in Glacier Crevasse in Alaska

As Glacier Melts, 1952 Plane Wreckage Revealed

Scientists Revive 400-Year-Old Plants Embedded in Glacier  

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