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Arctic Climate Changes
By Clark Whelton

The discussion about mammoths on Wrangel Island in the Arctic prompts me to re-post an earlier message about well-preserved temperate forests at 79 degrees north latitude.  The discovery of non-mineralized fresh-looking deciduous trees and the fossils of tropical fauna on Axel Heiberg Island still strikes me as remarkable.

The appeal to continental drift does not explain the well-preserved remains of temperate forests discovered on Axel Heiberg Island, which, at 79 degrees n. latitude, is deep within the Arctic Circle.  Articles in "Canadian Geographic" (Vol. 106, no. 6) and "Equinox" (May-June 1986) describe the surprise that awaited a member of the Geological Survey of Canada when he arrived on Axel Heiberg in 1985.  "He had found the remains of a 45 million year old forest just 1,100 kms. from the North Pole... The sense of being transported into the past is made all the more real by the remarkable preservation of the fossils.  The wood (swamp cypress and dawn redwood) has not been altered through all this time; it looks and feels like freshly cut wood — it splits and splinters, it can be carved with a knife, and it burns as readily as kindling.Most impressive of all, it still has that reddish hue we often find in softwood lumber.  The only thing missing is the scent (of fresh wood)."

The fallen tree trunks of the deciduous trees and their still-rooted stumps were perfectly preserved.  Beneath a layer of silt were found well-preserved leaf mats.  "Sorting through these mats is much like probing beneath a modern forest."  On Ellesmere Island, also in the high Arctic, have been found "tree trunks so perfectly preserved they  give the illusion of having fallen yesterday, rather than 50 million years ago.  A close examination of the fossilized wood revealed regular growth rings, a sign of seasonality... the Arctic trees (had been) growing in swamps, which were also inhabited by alligators and giant salamanders (and numerous other tropical and temperate fauna)."

It's not clear how deciduous trees and reptiles survived six months of Arctic darkness, let alone the accompanying cold.

And, regarding continental drift, "Axel Heiberg is today only a few hundred kilometres closer to the North Pole than it was when these forests flourished."

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