Tag Archives: arctic

Woolly mammoths (and rhinos) ate flowers

Woolly mammoths (and rhinos) ate flowers

By Tia Ghose

Published February 06, 2014

  • pleistocene-arctic

    The Arctic had much more diverse flora than previously thought during the Pleistocene Era (Mauricio Anton)

Woolly mammoths, rhinos and other ice age beasts may have munched on high-protein wildflowers called forbs, new research suggests.

And far from living in a monotonous grassland, the mega-beasts inhabited a colorful Arctic landscape filled with flowering plants and diverse vegetation, the study researchers found.

The new research “paints a different picture of the Arctic,” thousands of years ago, said study co-author Joseph Craine, an ecosystem ecologist at Kansas State University. “It makes us rethink how the vegetation looked and how those animals thrived on the landscape.”

The ancient ecosystem was detailed Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Pretty landscape In the past, scientists imagined that the now-vast Arctic tundra was once a brown grassland steppe that teemed with wooly mammoths, rhinos and bison. But recreations of the ancient Arctic vegetation relied on fossilized pollen found in permafrost, or frozen soil. Because grasses and sedges tend to produce more pollen than other plants, those analyses produced a biased picture of the landscape. [Image Gallery: Ancient Beasts Roam an Arctic Landscape]

To understand the ancient landscape better, researchers analyzed the plant genetic material found in 242 samples of permafrost from across Siberia, Northern Europe and Alaska that dated as far back as 50,000 years ago.

They also analyzed the DNA found in the gut contents and fossilized poop, or coprolites, of eight Pleistocene beasts woolly mammoths, rhinos, bison and horses found in museums throughout the world.

The DNA analysis showed that the Arctic at the time had a varied landscape filled with wildflowers, grasses and other vegetation.

And the shaggy ice age beasts that roamed the landscape took advantage of that cornucopia. The grazers supplemented their grassy diet with a hefty helping of wildflowerlike plants known as forbs, the stomach content analysis found.

These forbs are high in protein and other nutrients, which may have helped the grazers put on weight and reproduce in the otherwise sparse Arctic environment, Craine told Live Science.

Vanishing wildflowers Between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, forbs declined in the Arctic,study co-author Mary E. Edwards, a physical geographer at the University of Southampton in England, wrote in an email.

Though it’s not exactly clear why, “we do know from much other evidence that the climate changed at this time,” Edwards said.

The ice age was ending and warmer, wetter weather was prevailing. That climate “allowed trees and shrubs to flourish and these would have outgrown forbs by shading them for example,” Edwards said.

It’s also possible that the vanishing of these high-protein plants hastened the extinction of ice age beasts such as the woolly mammoth. For example, grasslands may have been delicately balanced, with poop from the grazers nourishing the plants, which in turn kept the animals alive. If a big jolt in climate disrupted one part of the chain for instance by depleting the forbs that may have led the whole system to collapse, Edwards speculated.

The findings also raise questions about modern grazers such as bison, Craine said. If the ancient beasts dined on forbs, it’s possible these wildflower-like plants play a bigger role in the diet of modern bison as well, he said.

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Arctic sea ice up 60 percent in 2013

Arctic sea ice up 60 percent in 2013

Published September 09, 2013

  • arctic sea ice 2012 vs 2013.jpg

    NASA satelite images show the changing Artic sea ice coverage. from August 2012 (left) to August 2013 (right) — a growth of about a million square miles. (NASA)

About a million more square miles of ocean are covered in ice in 2013 than in 2012, a whopping 60 percent increase — and a dramatic deviation from predictions of an “ice-free Arctic in 2013,” the Daily Mail noted.

Arctic sea ice averaged 2.35 million square miles in August 2013, as compared to the low point of 1.32 million square miles recorded on Sept. 16, 2012, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. A chart published Sept. 8 by NSIDC shows the dramatic rise this year, putting total ice cover within two standard deviations of the 30-year average.

Noting the year over year surge, one scientist even argued that “global cooling” was here.

“We are already in a cooling trend, which I think will continue for the next 15 years at least. There is no doubt the warming of the 1980s and 1990s has stopped,” Anastasios Tsonis of the University of Wisconsin told London’s Mail on Sunday.

The surge in Arctic ice is a dramatic change from last year’s record-setting lows, which fueled dire predictions of an imminent ice-free summer. A 2007 BBC report said the Arctic could be ice free in 2013 — a theory NASA still echoes today. 

“[An ice-free Arctic is] definitely coming, and coming sooner than we previously expected,“ Walt Meier, a glaciologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, told LiveScience last month. “We’re looking at when as opposed to if.”

Noting the growth in ice, the Snow and Ice Data Center said that coverage was still well below the 30-year average. And the year over year growth in ice is “largely irrelevant,” argued The Guardian, noting that more ice is to be expected after the record low a year ago.

“We should not often expect to observe records in consecutive years. 2012 shattered the previous record low sea ice extent; hence ‘regression towards the mean’ told us that 2013 would likely have a higher minimum extent,” wrote Dana Nuccitelli.

Meanwhile, global surface temperatures have been relatively flat over the past decade and a half, according to data from the U.K.’s weather-watching Met Office.

A leaked draft of the next major climate report from the U.N. cites numerous causes to explain the slowdown in warming: greater-than-expected ash from volcanoes, a decline in heat from the sun, more heat being absorbed by the deep oceans, and so on.

Climate skeptics have spent months debating the weather pattern, some citing it as evidence that global warming itself has decelerated or even stopped.

“The absence of any significant change in the global annual average temperature over the past 16 years has become one of the most discussed topics in climate science,” wrote David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation in June. “It has certainly focused the debate about the relative importance of greenhouse gas forcing of the climate versus natural variability.”


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Ancient Arctic Camel

Ancient Arctic camel a curious conundrum

Published March 05, 2013

Associated Press

  • Pliocene Candian Camel.jpg

    The High Arctic camel on Ellesmere Island during the Pliocene warm period, about 3.5 million years ago. The camels lived in a boreal-type forest that included larch trees; the depiction is based on records of plant fossils found at nearby fossil deposits. (Julius Csotonyi)

  • Pliocene Candian Camel 1.jpg

    The fossil bones of the High Arctic Camel laid out in Dr. Rybczynski’s lab at the Canadian Museum of Nature. The fossil evidence consists of about 30 bone fragments, which together form part of a limb bone of a Pliocene camel. (Martin Lipman, Canadian Museum of Nature)

  • Pliocene Candian Camel 2.jpg

    View of Camp 2 at the Fyles Leaf Bed Site on Ellesmere Island, near Strathcona Fiord. Across the valley lay exposed tilted Devonian-era beds, partially obscured by low-lying cloud. (Martin Lipman, Canadian Museum of Nature)

  • Pliocene Candian Camel 3.jpg

    A fragment of the camel fossil lying in situ on the Fyles Leaf Bed site. The fossil looks very similar to wood. The fossil evidence consists of about 30 bone fragments, which together form part of a limb bone of a Pliocene camel.Found on Ellesmere Island, this is the northernmost discovery of camels in the Arctic, about 1,200 km further north than the Yukon camel.The fossil record from this area shows the camel lived about 3.5 million years ago, when the region supported a boreal-type forest.Ellesmere Island..”Fyles Leaf Bed site” refers to an exposure located about 9 km Southwest of the Beaver Pond site near Strathcona Fiord. The section was visited previously by John Fyles (Geological Survey of Canada), and briefly in 1992 by Fyles and Richard Harington. In 1992 they prospected for about 2 hours. The first detailed stratigraphic work on the site was by Adam Csank (supervised by Jim Basinger) as part of his M.Sc. thesis (2006). At the time Adam measured 40 m of section, but in 2008 John Gosse determined that the Tertiary section was 90 m in thickness. (Martin Lipman, Canadian Museum of Nature)

OTTAWA –  Ancient, mummified camel bones dug from the tundra confirm that the animals now synonymous with the arid sands of Arabia actually developed in subfreezing forests in what is now Canada’s High Arctic, a scientist said Tuesday.

About 3.5 million years ago, Strathcona Fiord on Ellesmere Island’s west-central coast would have looked more like a northern forest than an Arctic landscape, said paleobotanist Natalia Rybczynski of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

“Larch-dominated, lots of wetlands, peat,” said Rybczynski, lead author of a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications. Nearby fossil sites have yielded evidence of ancient bears, horses, deer, badgers and frogs. The average yearly temperature would have been about 32 Fahrenheit.

“If you were standing in it and watching the camel, it would have the feel of a boreal-type forest.”

The Arctic camel was 30 percent larger than modern camels, she said. Her best guess is it was one-humped.

Although native camels are now only found in Africa and Asia, scientists have long believed the species actually developed in North America and later died out. Camel remains have been previously found in the Yukon.

What makes Rybczynski’s find special is not only how far north it was found, but its state of preservation.

The 30 fragments found in the sand and pebbles of the tundra were mummified, not fossilized. So despite their age, the pieces preserved tiny fragments of collagen within them, a common type of protein found in bones.

Analyzing that protein not only proved the fragments were from camels, but from a type of camel that is much more closely related to the modern version than the Yukon camel. Out of the dozens of camel species that once roamed North America, the type Rybczynski found was one of the most likely to have crossed the Bering land bridge and colonized the deserts.

“This is the one that’s tied to the ancestry of modern camels,” she said.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/03/05/ancient-arctic-camel-curious-conundrum/?intcmp=features#ixzz2NNHSu4Ih


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