Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Retreat of glaciers uncovers old plants

One more effect of climate change is becoming evident: plants that were frozen under ice for centuries are reviving and growing. Biologists from the University of Alberta have discovered bryophytes that last grew before the Little Ice Age (1550-1850). They are newly uncovered, and appeared to be growing in the wild. They grew in the lab, too. The abstract and article are here. A news report from the BBC is here. Here's what Catherine La Farge, the lead biologist, had to say:

"We ended up walking along the edge of the glacier margin and we saw these huge populations coming out from underneath the glacier that seemed to have a greenish tint," said Catherine La Farge, lead author of the study.
. . .
"When we looked at them in detail and brought them to the lab, I could see some of the stems actually had new growth of green lateral branches, and that said to me that these guys are regenerating in the field, and that blew my mind," she told BBC News.
"If you think of ice sheets covering the landscape, we've always thought that plants have to come in from refugia around the margins of an ice system, never considering land plants as coming out from underneath a glacier."

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