Sep 20, 2013 11:06 PM EDT

Ancient Forest Surfaces While Alaska Glacier Melts: Timberland Exposed For The First Time In More Than 1,000 Years! [VIDEO & REPORT]


An ancient forest has thawed under a melting Alaska glacier; the once-hidden timberland is now exposed for the first time in more than 1,000 years, LiveScience reported Friday.

A covert ancient forest has been exposed to the world for the first time after it has thawed under southern Alaska's melting Mendenhall Glacier.

Researchers based at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau said that stumps and logs are now becoming visible at the 36.8-square-mile (95.3 square kilometers) Mendenhall Glacier's river of ice flowing into a lake near Juneau, adding that the trees appear to be in their original upright position while others are still bearing roots and bark.

"There are a lot of them, and being in a growth position is exciting because we can see the outermost part of the tree and count back to see how old the tree was," University of Alaska Southeast Geology Professor and Member of the Research Team Cathy Connor said. "Mostly, people find chunks of wood helter-skelter, but to see these intact upright is kind of cool."

According to LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet, the research team has tentatively identified the visible trees as either hemlock or spruce, based on the trees' trunk diameter and based on the types of trees growing in the region at present.

However, Connor said that they are still to further assess the samples they took to verify the tree type.

Connor said that based on the radiocarbon ages of the trees, a protective layer of gravel may have encased the woodland more than 1,000 years ago, as the glacier was advancing. "As glaciers advance, they emit summer meltwater streams that spew aprons of gravel beyond the glacier's edge," Connor explained, adding that the phenomenon ultimately plowed over the trees, snapping off their limbs aside from preserving the stumps in very cold ice.

Meanwhile, Taku Glacier, which can be found south of Juneau, is also undergoing the same process. Connor said they can observe the phenomenon real time as the glacier advances over a modern forest of cottonwood trees.

However, compared to the growing Taku Glacier, the Medenhall Glacier has already retreated by an average rate of about 170 feet per year since 2005, and is now being considered a threat by many locals since it can lead to the rise of sea levels as well as the loss of more freshwater sources.

Anchorage, the state's most populated city, is said to mainly rely on the retreating Eklutna Glacier for its drinking water.

Nevertheless, the research team is still eager to continue on the rare opportunity to examine well-preserved remnants of the ancient world. They are currently planning to return to the said Glacier and dig through the sediment in search of pine needles as well as other vegetation. They are also planning to measure the growth bands of the trees for them to determine the trees ages before they died.

"These are relict stories, and piecing them together with radiocarbon dating and stratigraphic work would help piece together the chapters of the story," Connor said.

The results of the investigation are yet to be published once sufficient data have been collated.

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