Four hundred year-old glacier-frozen plants sprout new growth

May 28, 2013
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In a report filed by a group from the University of Alberta it's been shown that samples from 400-year-old plants known as bryophytes were able to grow anew in special laboratory conditions. These plants had been frozen during the "Little Ice Age" that took place from approximately AD 1550 to AD 1850, appearing around Canada's Teardrop Glacier at Sverdrup Pass.

Bryophytes are known for their ability to survive long Arctic winters, but the amount of time they've been dormant in this situation is unprecedented. According to Catherine La Farge, lead author of the study, the plants in question were found at the edge of a glacier that'd been retreating 3-4m per year. This retreat has accelerated "sharply" since 2004, according to the BBC.

Above you'll see some of this 400-year-old moss from ABC Science photographed by Dr La Farge herself.

"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.

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." - Dr La Farge

Imagine seeing plants that should very well have been dead for hundreds of years appearing with new green growth on their form. It's exciting enough finding a brand new bud on a plant that's been in our basement over the winter!

According to Dr La Farge, this is just one piece of the puzzle. Retreating ice at Sverdrup Pass is currently uncovering species new to science - these new cyanobacteria and green terrestrial algae "really need to be studied", said Dr La Farge - and we're expecting her to take charge to do it!

SOURCE: PNAS


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