Join us on Friday, October 12th at 7:00 pm in Room 132 of the Archaeology Building (55 Campus Drive) for our first meeting of Fall 2018! Dr. James Basinger (Department of Geological Sciences, University of Saskatchewan) will be presenting “Fossil Forests of the Canadian High Arctic: A Window into Polar Environments During a Period of Global Warmth”. All are welcome!
Abstract: Canadian High Arctic: A Window into Polar Environments During a Period of Global Warmth
Climate change is dominating our global environmental consciousness, and Humanity’s role in global warming is now a matter of consensus among the scientific community. Our impact on Earth’s climate, and the consequence, in turn, on ecosystems, exists, however, within the context of constant change. The fossil record illustrates Earth’s changing climate, and nowhere is the contrast between past and present so vivid as in the polar regions.
Remains of ancient polar communities are preserved in the Canadian High Arctic, most notably on Axel Heiberg Island, where mummified fossil forests of Middle Eocene age (45 million years old) are found. Tree stumps are still rooted in their ancient soils, and forest-floor litters are preserved in exquisite detail. As revealed by these fossils, the Arctic once hosted towering cedars and dawn redwoods, rich hardwood forests of walnut, oak, sycamore, and birch, and upland forests of pine, larch, and spruce. Lush vegetation thrived in the warm, humid polar environment of this “Greenhouse Earth”, and arctic tundra and ice did not exist.
Global climate has changed dramatically, as first the Southern, then the Northern Hemisphere slipped inexorably into an Ice Age. Arctic fossils help us understand how Earth’s climate changes and appreciate the impact of global climate change. These great changes in climate occur naturally in response to evolution of the Earth System, profoundly altering Earth’s biosphere over geological time. Humans have become agents of climate change, and we must anticipate our impact on Earth’s environments. Perhaps the Arctic fossil record may serve as a window onto both the past and the future.
Dr. James Basinger received a B.Sc. in Bot any at the University of Alberta. He then earned an M.Sc. in 1976 and Ph.D in 1979 at the University of Alberta in Paleobotany. After two years as a postdoctoral fellow in the U.S.A., Australia, and Canada, he joined the faculty of the Department of Geological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Saskatchewan in 1981. He served as Head of the Department of Geological Sciences from 1997–2003, Associate Dean Science from 2004–2007, and Associate Vice-President Research from 2008–2016.
His research program on the evolution of plants and environments has included extensive field-based research in Western Canada and the Canadian High Arctic. Since 1982 he has investigated the remains of fossil plants in northernmost Canada and was involved in the much-publicized discovery of the 45–60 million- year-old fossil forests of Axel Heiberg and Ellesmere islands. These fossil forests provide a window into Earth’s past, to a time when global climate was much warmer than present, and forests existed throughout the polar regions. His arctic research has also brought to light one of the best sources of some of the world’ s oldest land plants, in 400-million-year-old rocks of Bathurst Island, in the central Arctic Archipelago of Canada.