Animal funds

UAF researchers to study Bering Land Bridge to better understand climate and vegetation

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – A team of Alaskan scientists have been given the green light to conduct research in the area that was at one time the Bering Land Bridge.

The region they are studying is in the northwestern part of Alaska. Currently it is covered by the ocean, but this has not always been the case.

“During the Ice Age, when much of the planet’s water was bound to ice sheets, sea levels were lower,” said Sarah Fowell, a professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Geosciences. Alaska in Fairbanks and principal investigator of the project. “And this area was above sea level, so the animals could, if they wanted to, walk from Alaska to the Russian Far East, or come from East Asia to North America.”

The research team will spend a month navigating the area while collecting core samples to find out exactly what was there.

Fowell said plants and animals crossed the land bridge.

“But some haven’t, and that’s something that still puzzles us,” she said. “We understand very little about the conditions on the Bering Land Bridge Lowlands because it is so difficult to access.”

Fowell said there would have been ice in the area, but from what they know the animals would have mostly been on vegetated land.

She said that from north to south, the land bridge was sometimes about 1,000 miles wide. She said east to west it was quite narrow near the Bering Strait, but some areas further south had around 500 miles of crossing.

“The animals didn’t know there was something on the other side. They lived there,” she said. “So there were clearly things for them to eat.”

Fowell said it was a fairly arid climate, so it was relatively ice-free. Scientists think it was cold enough for the ice caps, but there wasn’t enough snow to feed those ice caps.

Fowell described what the sample collection process will look like during the project.

Approximate locations where the team plans to take samples(Google/KTUU)

“A core is usually a tube, something like 2 and 1/2.3 inches in diameter,” she said.

Scientists will push the tube into the sediments at the bottom of the Bering Sea.

“You take it out and you have a continuous record of the sediment that has accumulated,” Fowell said. “In our case, we’re looking for sediments from the last 25,000 years, from…the peak of the last ice age until today.”

The mud-filled tube is then opened vertically to view and sample the layers, each from a different era in Earth’s history.

“As the climate changes, the vegetation changes. The plants that can live there will change,” Fowell said. “And so looking at past changes in vegetation can give us an idea of ​​what the climate was like and how it changed over time.”

Fowell is very interested in the vegetation of the Bering land bridge, as it may help explain why some animals lived there and crossed the land bridge, while others did not.

She said, for example, that woolly mammoths crossed over from Asia, but not woolly rhinos. His team hopes to find evidence of why. During the period studied by the team, humans would have passed through East Asia, Fowell said.

“We are not looking for human remains or evidence of humans. We’re not going to get that back,” she said.

“We will examine the vegetation at a time when people lived on the lowlands of the Bering Land Bridge, and perhaps at least we can answer a few questions about the resources available to them, as well as other animals on the land bridge,” Fowell continued.

The team hopes to be in the area in the summer of 2023, but in advance they also plan to speak with surrounding communities to hear their wishes and concerns.

Fowell said the National Science Foundation funds the research.

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