Skip to main content

Image Gallery: Fossil Forest in the Canadian Arctic

Fossil Forest

A fossil forest in the Canadian Arctic could live again as the planet warms.

(Image credit: Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier)

A fossilized forest, one that lived between 2.6 million and 3 million years ago, in the Canadian Arctic, could thrive again, say scientists who suggest by 2100 the climate there would be warm enough to allow such growth. Here, Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier, of the University of Montreal, at the study site on Bylot Island in Nunavut, Canada, at the beginning of the fieldwork in June 2010.

Bylot Island

A fossil forest in the Canadian Arctic could live again as the planet warms.

(Image credit: Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier)

The trees in the ancient forest, interpreted from the pollen samples, are usually found in areas where the yearly average temperature is about 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). Currently, average temperatures on Bylot Island (the field site shown here) hover around 5 degrees F (minus 15 degrees C).

Extreme Science

A fossil forest in the Canadian Arctic could live again as the planet warms.

(Image credit: Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier)

The base camp on Bylot Island, where even during the summer, the researchers had to endure extreme conditions, including gusting winds of 50 mph (80 km/hour) and freezing temperatures.

Magnetic Sediment

A fossil forest in the Canadian Arctic could live again as the planet warms.

(Image credit: Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier)

A typical peat and wood sample collected from the ancient forest on Bylot Island. The researchers analyzed the samples for pollen, which would reveal the plant/tree species, as well as the magnetic iron within the rock layer. Since "magnetic sediment" lines up parallel with the Earth's magnetic field at the time, something that has changed several times, scientists can use the results to estimate an age for the layer.

Layers of Time

A fossil forest in the Canadian Arctic could live again as the planet warms.

(Image credit: Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier)

Typical stratigraphic exposure of sediment studied by the researchers for pollen content. The dashed lines correspond to the junctions between the different units discriminated in laboratory based on grain size.

Arctic Delivery

A fossil forest in the Canadian Arctic could live again as the planet warms.

(Image credit: Alexandre Guertin-Pasquier)

Material is delivered via helicopter in 2009 during the closure of the Bylot Island base camp.

Mummy Trees

(Image credit: Joel Barker, courtesy of Ohio State University.)

Fossil forests of a similar age have also been found on Ellesmere Island, where mummy trees were uncovered by a melting glacier in the Canadian Arctic, and shown here. The spindly, mummified trees showed signs of stress, which was likely the result of a changing climate (from greenhouse to an icehouse of sorts) as well as the seasonal enduring darkness at the top of the world.