A crop of 400-year-old plants that were wiped out by glaciers have come back from the dead, BBC News reports. Researchers exploring the Teardrop Glacier high up in the Canadian Arctic say that the ice has been retreating at a rate of three to four meters every year since 2004, exposing land that has been covered since the Little Ice Age that took place between AD 1550 and AD 1850. While on a recent expedition, theUniversity of Alberta team discovered something that had a “greenish tint.” It turned out to be ancient bryophytes sprouting new growth after 400 years of dormancy!
The bryophytes “are flourishing under lab conditions,” BBC News reports. These are not like plants we know today since they lack the vascular tissue necessary to pump fluids. Dr. Catherine La Farge said it is common for them to remain dormant, but she was stunned to find that they were sprouting new growth after 400 years under ice.
“When we looked at them in detail and brought them to the lab, I could see some of the stems actually had new growth of green lateral branches, and that said to me that these guys are regenerating in the field, and that blew my mind,” she told BBC News.
The findings, which were presented at aNational Academy of Sciences meeting, gives researchers a clue about how ecosystems survive cyclical ice ages. A host of other plants, some never before seen by modern scientists, are emerging from the shadows as well – including cyanobacteria and green terrestrial algae.