Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Ancient tundra found under Greenland ice

  • Written by  Olivia Edward
  • Published in Polar
The Greenland Ice Sheet The Greenland Ice Sheet Shutterstock
01 Jun
2014
An international team of scientists has discovered an ancient tundra landscape preserved under the Greenland Ice Sheet

The scientists examined 17 ‘dirty ice’ samples from the bottommost 12 metres of a 3,000- metre ice core extracted from Summit, Greenland, in 1993, looking at the concentration of a rare form of beryllium, which accumulates in soil when it’s exposed to the air.

Because they assumed that most of the soil would have been derived from glacier-scoured bedrock, they expected to find only tiny amounts of the beryllium. However, they found that the silt had very high concentrations of the isotope, indicating that rather than scraping the landscape, the ice sheet has been frozen to the ground.

The team also measured levels of nitrogen and carbon in the sample that could have been left by plant material. ‘The fact that measurable amounts of organic material were found indicates that soil must have been present under the ice,’ said one of the study’s authors, Andrea Lini of the University of Vermont. The material’s composition suggested that the pre-glacial landscape may have been a partially forested tundra.

To confirm their findings, the researchers also measured beryllium levels in a modern permafrost tundra soil from Alaska. ‘The values were very similar, which made us more confident that what we found under Greenland was tundra soil,’ said the study’s lead author, Paul Bierman, also of the University of Vermont.

Taken together, the results provide strong evidence that the Greenland Ice Sheet has persisted much longer than previously thought, surviving several past periods of global warming. ‘It’s likely that it did not fully melt at any time,’ Bierman said.

This story was published in the June 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Climate

History is littered with examples of fungi helping to digest…

Geophoto

The streets of Philadelphia are home to a small and forgotten…

Geophoto

When photographer Matthew Maran first snapped a fox he had…

Wildlife

Coloradans have voted to reintroduce grey wolves to the state

Energy

Covid-19 provides an opportunity to re-assess the supply chains of…

Geophoto

Andrea DiCenzo is a photojournalist, who has covered conflicts for…

Oceans

Field observations of corals around the world reveal that not…

Climate

The Great Plains of the USA are once again getting…

Climate

Attempts to build a digital twin of the Earth could…

Oceans

Food systems will need to change as the global population…

Wildlife

Zoos do a lot more than welcome excited visitors; closures…

Oceans

 BluHope is back with a day of webinars to promote…

Wildlife

WildEast, a grassroots community initiative, is encouraging volunteers to commit…

Wildlife

With growing global awareness of the risks of hunting and…

Climate

Researchers have identified the extent of microplastic contamination throughout the…

Wildlife

The Thames Estuary has long been home to heavy industry,…

Wildlife

Whydahs and indigobirds, collectively known as the vidua finches, show…

Oceans

Whales sequester an enormous amount of carbon, making their protection…