Ever since the formation of our planet, there were lengthy stages of reduction of Earth’s surface and atmosphere temperature, which culminate in the development of continental and polar thick sheets of ice and montane glaciers. These periods are called Ice Ages and can last thousands of years. Surprising, some ancient life forms came back to life due to permafrost melting. Earth is now in what scientists call an ‘interglacial’ period, meaning that our planet experiences warmer temperatures.
But it wasn’t always like that. Starting with 1550 Earth found itself under a cold wave which lasted until 1850. This quite short period was named the ‘Little Ice Age.’ During this period, glaciers from the Arctic polar region expanded. In Canada, on Ellesmere Island, the glacier which is known as ‘Teardrop Glacier’ spread even further than before and covered everything in its path, including vegetation.
The scientists noticed that vegetation trapped in permafrost is still alive
In the last 170 years, plants stayed covered under the thick blanket of ice until recently when, due to global warming, they have been revealed to the world and scientists. What biologists found on Ellesmere Island was a clump of Aulacomnium Turgidum, a species of moss. Even though it was mostly dried, some small parts of it still had a green hue. Which, for evolutionary biologist Catherine La Farge, meant that the plant could still be alive.
Catherine La Farge, a biologist at the University of Alberta, has been studied for the past ten years Ellesmere Island’s ecosystem from the past, more specifically the flora that has been, until now, hidden under the glaciers and which is the foundation of today’s ecosystem. After bringing the moss to the lab and giving them nutrients, warmth, and light, almost all of the plants came back to life.
The researchers were quite astonished to see the moss sprouting leaves and roots as it is well known that ice can affect plants and kill them. But moss adapted to the cold weather to survive.
Ancient life forms came back to life after spending 40,000 years in permafrost
Another team’s latest revitalization is a 1,500 years old moss found under the Antarctic ice. The conclusion the team from the British Antarctic Survey reached is that glaciers and ice, in general, are not necessarily destroying vegetation but help it to tolerate ice ages better. As the ice is melting, vegetation slowly begins to thrive. And as plant thrives, other living things are expected to show up and settle down.
Microbiologist Tatiana Vishnivetskaya succeeded in reviving bacteria that is a million years old in the lab. The bacteria were taken from the Siberian permafrost to study single-cell organisms that were alive thousands of years ago. But one of the most important and extraordinary findings of her team was the reanimation of nematodes, half-millimeter worms that had a brain and a nervous system.
They were estimated to be 41,000 years old meaning that they were alive when Neanderthals were ruling the world. They too adapted to survive the harsh conditions. Considering that Earth’s climate is changing into something worse, these organisms and plants are the last chance our planet can have to survive.
Stacy Richardson is a seasoned journalist with 15 years experience.. She has conducted numerous research studies on media effects including the effects of bullying on adolescents, and “sexy media” effects on sexual behavior. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Stacy covers stories affecting local politics and economy. Contact Stacy here.