NPR : News

Filed Under:

Beneath A Glacier's White, Researchers See Green

In the news business, an evergreen is a story that doesn't have to run on a particular day, but can stay fresh for a long time.

This is an evergreen story about an evergreen. In particular, a group of plants called bryophytes. Turns out they may be evergreen quite a bit longer than most people thought.

The most famous bryophyte of them all is moss. "After a hundred years, a moss may look perfectly natural and even retain its green color," says Jonathan Shaw, a scientist at the bryology lab at Duke University.

But a hundred years is nothing compared with the bryophytes Catherine La Farge and her colleagues found on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic. The Teardrop Glacier on Ellesmere Island has been receding rather rapidly recently. "We were aware that there was vegetation coming out from underneath the glacier," La Farge says. "But we had no idea that there was such a diversity of bryophytes that were coming out from underneath the glacier."

But if the diversity was impressive, even more so was what they saw when they brought the bryophytes back to their laboratory in Edmonton, Alberta.

"The material actually looked quite green when we examined it underneath the microscope. And in examining it in more detail, there was actually growth coming from the material," La Farge says. In other words, not only were the plants still green, they were green and growing, something La Farge says is pretty amazing.

She says bryophytes don't typically get a lot of attention from botanists, compared to the gaudier seed plants most people are familiar with.

As La Farge and her colleagues write in the current issue of the journal PNAS, "Our results emphasize the unrecognized resilience of bryophytes, which are commonly overlooked vis-a-vis their contribution to the establishment, colonization and maintenance of polar terrestrial ecosystems."

In fact, as glaciers around the world continue to recede, we may be hearing a lot more about bryophytes.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

At Food World 'Oscars,' Category Sneakily Redefines All-American Cuisine

Most James Beard awards go to haute cuisine, but one prize recognizes classic neighborhood joints. And increasingly, the winners are immigrants whose cultures haven't yet dissolved in the melting pot.
NPR

At Food World 'Oscars,' Category Sneakily Redefines All-American Cuisine

Most James Beard awards go to haute cuisine, but one prize recognizes classic neighborhood joints. And increasingly, the winners are immigrants whose cultures haven't yet dissolved in the melting pot.
WAMU 88.5

D.C.'s 17-Year-Old Charitable Trust Bankrupts

The DC Trust has declared bankruptcy leaving over 70 groups that rely on their funding with questions about what went wrong and what happens next.

WAMU 88.5

Local D.C. STEM Careers Are Soaring - But For Whom?

Kojo explores the local state of diversity in STEM with educators who are looking to change it and a journalist who's been tracking it.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.