Researchers have found the DNA of beetles, moths, and flies as well as traces of plant life in ice core samples from Greenland, the Los Angeles Times reports today. It demonstrates that the world was significantly warmer than previously thought, and that the glaciers of Greenland may have been a more recent development:
Ice-covered Greenland really was green a half-million or so years ago, covered with forests in a climate much like that of Sweden and eastern Canada today.
An international team of researchers recovered ancient DNA from the bottom of an ice core that indicates the presence of pine, yew and alder trees as well as insects.
The researchers, led by Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, say this is the first proof that there was forest in southern Greenland.
Included were genetic traces of butterflies, moths, flies and beetles, they report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.
Historians have long known that Vikings established colonies on coastal Greenland over a thousand years ago, but that it disappeared as the Little Ice Age waxed. The creep of the glaciers killed the agricultural efforts of the colonists, and they eventually abandoned Greenland. Researchers had assumed that the colony took advantage of an exceptionally warm temporary weather pattern that freed the land from its normal icy status, but this discovery could show that the glacial period of Greenland is the exception rather than the norm.
That has some implications for the climate-change debate. Advocates of anthropogenic climate change use Greenland as key evidence in their argument. They claim that the loss of Greenland’s glacial mass — which is still in dispute — shows the effect that mankind has had on the Earth’s climate. If Greenland’s glaciers have only recently formed, then that argument makes little sense. Some estimates of the age of the DNA from the central portion of southern Greenland have them as recent as 116,000 years ago.
The entire notion of anthropogenic climate change needs much more study. Some people joke that when the Vikings begin farming Greenland again, they’ll begin to consider it. Now it looks like we can abide a forest in central Greenland and still have little over which to panic.