March 17, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Mummified Trees in the Arctic: Are They Millions of Years Old?

Arctic wood in a “polar desert” has been discovered that is “so well preserved that the wood can still burn, and even the most delicate tree structures, such as leaves, are present” reported PhysOrg.  Joel Barker (Ohio State) remarked, “The dead trees look just like the dried-out dead wood lying outside now.” How old are they?
    “The Hazen Plateau on Ellesmere Island, a polar desert where winter temperatures can currently dip down to 50 below zero, is currently too cold and dry to support forests; the only living trees that now dot the park’s desolate landscape are dwarf willows,” the article explained, adding the following interpretation: “Therefore, the pieces of wood must have come from trees that lived millions of years ago, when the Arctic was still warm enough to support forests.”  Barker tried to bracket the age from sediment cores to at least 2 million years, and from pollen, no older than 12 million years.  From tree rings, Barker and his team determined that the forests were barely hanging on at the northern extent of their range during a period of warmer climate.
    Barker believes the trees were buried rapidly in a landslide.  In future work, he plans to see if any remain buried in an upright position.  “In addition, he plans to compare specific tree components, such as leaf cuticles, from mummified material with the same components from contemporary trees of the same species,” the article said.  “Differences between the mummified and contemporary components of the same tree species may provide clues about the evolution of those species.”  But since the same species in the fossils are identifiable from living counterparts, only slight variation has occurred, if any – not the origin of species.

This is an update on the Chronicles of Blarneya reported on 12/18/2010).  Recall that a team member said this: “When we started pulling leaves out of the soil, that was surreal, to know that it’s millions of years old and that you can hold it in your hand.”  Scientists do not hold millions of years in their hands.  They hold them in their heads.

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Categories: Fossils

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