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No. 51: May-Jun 1987

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Forests Frozen In Time

Axel Heiberg Island in the Canadian Arctic is only 700 miles south of the present North Pole. Little grows there today, but there is on these icy shores the remnant of a forest that flourished 45 million years ago, according to conventional geological dating of the strata. A University of Saskatchewan scientist, J. Bassinger, has been studying the 15-20 layers of stumps, some with diameters of 3 feet, and logs up to 30 feet long. Even rather blackish leaves survive in the soil. This once lush forest boasted trees like dawn redwoods and water firs; being analogous to Florida's Cypress Swamp in the Everglades. So excellent is the preservation of the forest that its wood cuts as if it were recent lumber and burns readily. (Howse, John; "Forestry Frozen in Time," Maclean's Magazine, p. 55, September 8, 1986. Cr. B. Ickes)

Comment. Question 1: Even if the earth was warmer 45 million years ago, could a tropical-type forest survive the nearly six months of total darkness at Axel Heiberg Island? Question 2: Can wood be preserved so well for so long? In the postulated warmer climate, there must have been many chemical and biological agents to promote rotting. Also relevant is the discovery, reported below, that wood that floats and burns with ease has been found in Antarctica. This Antarctic wood has been dated at 3 million years.

From Science Frontiers #51, MAY-JUN 1987. 1987-2000 William R. Corliss