Glaciers and ice sheets override organic matter in soils and vegetation when they advance.  Further, organic matter deposited as wind blown material accumulates on the glacier surface and is incorporated into the ice mass during firnification.  Melt may mobilize these pools of organic matter, some of which may be remnant from when the ice mass originally formed and thus potentially quite old.  We have identified several key sites in Antarctica and the Canadian Arctic where ancient organic material has been sequestered beneath valley glaciers and in permafrost. 

We received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF EAGER grant) for a field investigation at a site in the Canadian Arctic during the summer of 2010.  We have identified a mummified forest deposit which contains mummified tree trunks, branches, cones, seeds, leaves, and insects.  We’ve determined that these forest remains are likely Pliocene in age and represent a forest ecosystem at the very northern edge of an ancient treeline at a time when Arctic climate was changing from conditions that were much warmer  than today’s to conditions that are more similar to those that exist presently.    Because of this, this site might yield important clues regarding how quickly ecosystems respond to climate change and how Arctic climate change occurred in the Pliocene and how it may respond to climate change in the future.  We currently have a proposal pending with the NSF to return to this Arctic field site in 2013 to continue our investigation.  Some of the initial results of this project were presented at the 2010 AGU Fall meeting in San Francisco and generated some attention (click on links below):



Here’s the poster:

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The Role of Ancient Organic Matter in Contemporary Ecosystem Processes