Had things worked out differently for humans, and had our great leaps forward occurred a short 15,000 years or so earlier, what would we be saying when the last great ice age began to fade.
I can see it now, article after article bemoaning the vanishing ice sheets and impending extinctions. Scientists and naturalist mourning the loss of the beloved Agassi glacier and report after report warning of the storms, volcanoes, and calamity to come.
“The Alaskan Landbridge will vanish!” they would screech; “The mammoths will be lost forever!”, they’d howl; and with much fanfare legislation, taxes, and Kyotos would be enacted to “save the planet”.
Yet, despite the best efforts of humankind, the glaciers would melt, the mammoths would vanish, and the world would prosper like never before â€¦ minus many hundreds of species that naturally came to their ends.
It amazes me, nay stuns me, that throughout the world normally thinking people lament the loss of arctic ice and glaciers, as if these vast ice sheets have always been there as permanent fixtures of the planet. Even while the snows recede and reveal the flora and fauna of iceless ages past, we are assaulted constantly with dire warnings â€¦ or rather threats. If only the butterflies and flowers being given up by the receding ice sheets could talk … what fools they’d make of us all.
In Iceland, they bemoan the loss of their â€œbelovedâ€ glaciers:
The next day, I found myself speaking with Dr. Tomas Johannesson, geophysicist with the Icelandic Meteorological Office, who was saying: “Look at Greenland! Water melting at the top is now penetrating to the bottom of the ice floes. A lot of this comes as a total surprise to scientists. Nobody was forecasting ice movements in Greenland. As a result of this trend, the Icelandic glaciers are retreating rapidly. Trekkers who go to the highlands and make measurements say that they are retreating from 50 to 100 meters per year. A lot of the area underneath is being exposed. We believe that, if this trend continues, Iceland will become ice-free in 100 years!”
Those conversations — and many others about the melting of beloved Icelandic glaciers and the general warming of these northern parts of the Earth — occurred last spring. The discussions were speculative, the predictions, imperfect: “maybe … sometime … in our children’s lifetimes …”
I wonder what these romantic souls would say, were they transported back thousands of years and made to gaze upon the forests of Greenland:
It is difficult to obtain fossil data from the 10% of Earth’s terrestrial surface that is covered by thick glaciers and ice sheets, and hence, knowledge of the paleoenvironments of these regions has remained limited. We show that DNA and amino acids from buried organisms can be recovered from the basal sections of deep ice cores, enabling reconstructions of past flora and fauna. We show that high-altitude southern Greenland, currently lying below more than 2 kilometers of ice, was inhabited by a diverse array of conifer trees and insects within the past million years. The results provide direct evidence in support of a forested southern Greenland and suggest that many deep ice cores may contain genetic records of paleoenvironments in their basal sections.
First published @ Celestial Junk