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These two trees were preserved beneath sand for 10,000 years.
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Ancient Forest Found in Michigan
News story originally written on February 24, 2000

How old are the trees in your backyard? They're probably not even close to the age of an ancient forest found buried in Michigan. During a mining operation, scientists from Michigan Technological University discovered spruce trees estimated to be over 10,000 years old.

The trees were buried under water and sand for all these years. The scientists had to hold back the water with dikes and excavate the sand in order to study the trees. They quickly cut off 140 cross-sections of trees to study before the water caved in and the forest was destroyed.

Scientists say the forest began shortly after a glacier passed through. The glacier finally planted itself only 10 miles away. The climate started to warm up, and soon the glacier was melting. The water carried sand with it and travelled towards the forest. Scientists say the sand buried the forest quickly, but gently, so as not to damage the moss growing on the trunks.

"It looks very much like a forest you would find today near Hudson Bay," says Professor Kurt Pregitzer of the university's Forestry Department.

When the sections of wood were analyzed, scientists made an interesting discovery. There are tree rings inside the cross-sections, which are used by scientists as a way to study the history of the tree. There should have been a change in the rings because of the sudden change in climate. However, there was no indication that the trees knew anything about the changes. Basically, this means nature may not always warn us that the climate is changing.

"Is there an indicator 50 years before that something's going to happen?" One scientist says. "It doesn't seem like it in the tree rings."

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA