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Arctic Forests

December 13, 2006

Scientists haven’t yet discovered Santa Claus at the North Pole, but they’ve found something that they think is just about as surprising.


Prehistoric forests at the north pole. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

In the Arctic, plants and animals have to survive three months of total darkness in the winter. Today, very few species are up to that task; but 45 million years ago, vast forests thrived there. Earth scientist Hope Jahren of Johns Hopkins has found that they were home to conifers that grew to 100 feet tall and 10 feet wide, thanks to an unusal ability.

HOPE JAHREN (Johns Hopkins University):
We believe that they went into a very dormant stage, not unlike a deciduous tree. However, these were conifer forests, and the conifer forests that we have today are evergreen. So the idea of a conifer forest that loses its leaves once a year is a very different kind of ecosystem than anything we have on Earth today.

She says the Earth was warmer then, so studying that era could help predict what might happen in a warmer future. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.