Plants that were frozen during the "Little Ice Age" centuries ago have been observed sprouting new growth, scientists say. Samples of 400-year-old plants known as bryophytes have flourished under laboratory conditions.
Researchers say this back-from-the-dead trick has implications for how ecosystems recover from the planet's cyclic long periods of ice coverage. The findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They come from a group from the University of Alberta, who were exploring an area around the Teardrop Glacier, high in the Canadian Arctic. The glaciers in the region have been receding at rates that have sharply accelerated since 2004, at about 3-4m per year. That is exposing land that has not seen light of day since the so-called Little Ice Age, a widespread climatic cooling that ran roughly from AD 1550 to AD 1850.
"We ended up walking along the edge of the glacier margin and we saw these huge populations coming out from underneath the glacier that seemed to have a greenish tint," said Catherine La Farge, lead author of the study.
Bryophytes are different from the land plants that we know best, in that they do not have vascular tissue that helps pump fluids around different parts of the organism.