Ice and glaciers cover about 10% of the earth’s landmasses, limiting our ability to study these lands in the distant past. In this study, Eske Willerslev and his team at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, extracted the oldest DNA recovered to date from the basal sections of deep ice cores in southern Greenland. When compared with DNA of modern animals and plants, these ancient DNA fragments revealed conifers such as alder, pine, spruce, and yew trees in Greenland’s past. The ice also contained DNA from beetles, flies, butterflies, and spiders. Dating indicated that the DNA was at least 450,000 years old – a result confirmed by several labs and techniques.
Did you know? Greenland, the world's largest island, is about 80% ice-capped, with an ice thickness of 1,500 meters on average.