Climate change thaws out 400-year-old plants
As glaciers melt and slowly recede from the land they once covered, we don’t really know what we’re going to find there. Scientists have already found plants that have been chilling out under glaciers for about four centuries — plants that, now that they’re out from under the ice, have decided to start growing again.
These plants are of a specific type, called bryophytes. Plants like this (moss is one example) don’t have vascular tissue to shuttle water and nutrients around, which means they deal better with harsh Arctic winters. When a team of scientists from the University of Alberta was poking around the receding Teardrop Glacier, they happened upon a patches of bryophytes sneaking out from under the ice — “these huge populations coming out from underneath the glacier that seemed to have a greenish tint,” the lead researcher, Catherine La Farge, told the BBC.
“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.”
We’re kind of nervous about what else might be under there. Santa Claus? Frozen aliens that will end civilization as we know it? (That would probably be better for the planet as a whole.) Preserved prehistoric men? If there are any prehistoric men, we hope they are at least as handsome as 1992-era Brendan Fraser.
Get Grist in your inbox