Ottawa, Canada – A recent Arctic tundra expedition has uncovered ancient, mummified camel bones that confirm the animals normally found in arid climates like Arabia, or Africa, actually populated subfreezing forests in Canada’s High Arctic.
Natalia Rybczynski, a paleobotanist and research scientist from the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, said that about 3.5 million years ago Strathcona Fiord on the west-central coast of Ellesmere Island would have looked much more like a typical northern forest than a bare Arctic landscape.
Fossil sites near the current discovery have also provided evidence of prehistoric badgers, bears, deer, frogs, and horses according to FOX News. The average annual temperature is estimated to have been approximately 32 Fahrenheit.
“If you were standing in it and watching the camel, it would have the feel of a boreal-type forest,” Rybczynski said. The paleobotanist also said that the Arctic tundra camel was nearly 30 percent larger than modern day camels, and she suspects that these camels were of the one-hump variety.
Scientists have believed for some time now that camels developed in North America, but later died out. This also isn’t the first time that camel remains have been found outside of their modern day territories. Camel bone fragments have been uncovered in the Yukon as well.
The real find here though isn’t the animal bones, but rather the condition of them.
The bone fragments found in the Arctic tundra weren’t fossilized like most bone matter, but rather mummified which provided the team with highly preserved pieces that still had collagen (a common protein found in bones) contained within them.
It was the analysis of that protein that proved the remains were from camels. More specifically, the analysis clearly indicated that the fragments belonged to a type of camel even more closely related to the modern day camel than the previous discovery in the Yukon.
According to Rybczynski, this camel was determined to be the most likely type of camel to have crossed the Bering land bridge and helped populate the deserts of today.
“[The Arctic tundra camel] is the one that’s tied to the ancestry of modern camels,” Rybczynski said.
But here’s something even more fantastic than that, Rybczynski’s research also suggests key factors related to Arctic climate change.
When the Arctic camel was alive, global climate averaged approximately two or three degrees warmer than current temperatures — and according to scientists today, that’s about as much as the Earth could handle today without suffering catastrophic changes.
“This is a super-important time analogue … This is a period of time that’s being referred to as a historical analogue for future warming,” Rybczynski said.
Current climate models indicate that a two-degree global increase would mean an increase in the Arctic and Arctic tundra of anywhere from seven to 10 degrees.
However, Rybczynski’s team discovered that the increase would be much greater than that, according to The Huffington Post. In fact, she suggests that the Arctic was actually between 14 and 22 degrees warmer than it is at present.
“This is where the fossil record becomes an interesting tool for us … We can ground-truth these models … If we can understand why we were getting this crazy warming at high latitudes in the past, maybe we can be more confident in our models and forecasting,” she said.
It seems that the Arctic tundra may have not been a very hospitable place for Rybczynski’s Arctic camel, but with her discovery comes not only invaluable migration and evolutionary information, but also another great environmental discovery that may very well reshape the way current climatologists consider historical climate change.