Alaska Glacier Thaws, Ancient Forest Emerges

    September 21, 2013

News that will no doubt spark global warming debates, an ancient forest floor has surfaced thanks to an Alaska glacier thawing. According to Live Science, trees in the forest are at least 1,000 years old.


Stumps and logs coming from the thawing glacier were first noticed 50 years ago, but the forest has begun to emerge only recently. Scientists from University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau noticed more trees popping up while studying the thawing Mendenhall Glacier. Many of the trees on the Alaska glacier, which is a 36.8-square-mile river of ice flowing into a lake near Juneau, are reportedly upright.

“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,” University of Alaska Southeast Geology Professor Cathy Connor said. “Mostly, people find chunks of wood helter-skelter, but to see these intact upright is kind of cool.” Connor says that the trees were encased by four to five feet of gravel, which protected them and kept the glacier from knocking them down.

Connor said that her team has done some radiocarbon testing on the trees to determine the age of the forest. The researcher feels comfortable putting the forest at 1,000 years old, and some trees have tested even older. The oldest tree Connor has found on the Mendenhall Glacier is around 2,350 years old.

As fascinating as it is to hear of a forest emerging from a melting glacier in Alaska, some scientists say the thawing Mendenhall Glacier could be trouble. The melting has caused “glacial-outburst” flooding, which could pose dangers for nearby residents. Fortunately officials in Juneau have a monitoring system in place that can provide a warning of such floods. The thawing glaciers could also pose dangers for ships in the area.

Such potential dangers won’t likely go away anytime soon, as glaciers are now melting faster than ever. The Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy warned of the impact climate change and thawing glaciers could have just last month. “The climate is changing and we need to adapt to that change and make sure communities are prepared,” McCarthy said.

The melting glaciers have sparked a lot of discussion on global warming and just how much effect it really has:

Main image via YouTube; inside picture via Juneau Empire