From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published March 6, 2012 10:46 AM

Norwegian Wood: It is Good

It is true that some of the best lumber comes from Scandinavia. The wood there is strong and highly durable, having to survive the harsh conditions of the northern winter. A new study from the University of Copenhagen has hammered the point home even further. It stated that some Scandinavian evergreens actually survived the spectacularly harsh conditions of the last Ice Age while the entire region was blanketed with a massive sheet of ice. Much of today's Scandinavian forests are populated by tree migrants from southern and eastern Europe after the temperatures warmed. However, there remains a large contingent of the original Scandinavian trees that survived against all odds.

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It was originally believed that the glaciers of the last ice age covered the landscape completely, leaving no plant life whatsoever. Then the trees gradually returned as the ice melted away. In fact, Scandinavia spruce and pine species survived the ice age for thousands of years. They grew in small ice-free pockets, or refuges and then recolonized the land when the ice retreated.

The team of scientists headed by professors from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, analyzed DNA of the modern spruce tree to discover two distinct types in Scandinavia. They also analyzed the DNA of pine and spruce found in sediments from lake-core samples.

There were two areas where they believe to be a source for the hardy ice-age survivors. One is Andoya Island in north-western Norway which has trees dated between 17,700 and 22,000 years old. Andoya Island was a refuge that was free from the ice sheet.

The other source area is believed to be in Trondelag, in central Norway, where they survived on top of exposed ridges or peaks of mountains which rose above the ice sheet. These exposed bits of land above the ice are known as nunataks. Nunataks can also be found in Greenland, but do not contain any trees.

This study highlights the incredible ability of trees to survive in terrible conditions, in the bitter cold, surrounded by nothing but ice. It also has economic significance to Scandinavia's timber industry. Now they know that the differences in the conifers are not due to individual variations. Rather, they exist because they evolved differently. Tree plantations can be planned to grow spruce or pine with the particular qualities of either strain.

This study has been published in the journal, Science.

Spruce trees image via Shutterstock

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