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An ancient 1000-year-old forest has been uncovered beneath Alaska’s 37 square mile Mendenhall Glacier. The forest has been poking through the receding ice near Juneau for nearly fifty years, but local scientists from the University of Alaska Southeast have observed an increasing number of visible stumps lately – including some trees that are still in an upright position.
The forest carbon dated at around 1,000 years old has managed to stay intact for so long because of a five foot high tomb of gravel that protects trees from the surrounding ice. Studies of existing vegetation in the area, as well as the size of the trunks, suggest that the trees are either spruce or hemlock. Cathy Connor, a geology professor at the University of Alaska Southeast who was involved in the investigation told LiveScience what makes the trees’ upright position so exciting:
“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.” She adds, “mostly, people find chunks of wood helter-skelter, but to see these intact upright is kind of cool.”
Even though the discovery is an exciting one for scientists, it has raised concerns amongst locals about rapidly receding glaciers. Apart from rising sea levels that would threaten the homes of many, residents in the area are concerned about a diminishing source of fresh drinking water.