134. Fossil Forests (1985)

Fossil Forests

Certain sites in the Canadian Arctic provide important clues to warmer climates in the past. Today, the High Arctic has short, cool summers and long, cold winters, with average annual temperature as low as -20°C. Sedimentary formations, ranging in age from 45 to 3 million years old, with their fossilized remains of lush, broad-leaved deciduous or evergreen coniferous forests conjure a different picture of the Arctic.

Foremost among the sites is the Napartulik fossil forest on Axel Heiberg Island. In 1985, Geological Survey of Canada geologist Brian Ricketts found and reported the stunningly well-preserved remains of an ancient forest. Subsequent studies revealed that it had flourished about 45 million years ago under warm and humid conditions, with short annual growing seasons and the alternating periods of continuous light and darkness associated with today’s Arctic.

Younger sedimentary strata in the High Arctic, including the Ballast Brook and Beaufort formations, contain remains of coniferous forests ranging from 15 to 5 million years old. As the position of the land relative to the North Pole has not changed significantly over the past 45 million years, the fossil forests are clear evidence that the Arctic’s climate has changed dramatically over time.

Category: Rocks, Fossils, Minerals and Meteorites

Decade: 1980s

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