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What Was Greenland Like 2 Million Years Ago?

Greenland, 2 million years ago, was a vastly different landscape, teeming with prehistoric flora and fauna. This icy realm, now known for its expansive glaciers, once hosted a more temperate ecosystem. Imagine walking through ancient forests where now only ice sheets stretch. What secrets does this transformation hold? Uncover the mysteries of Earth's climatic past with us. What will we find next?

Change is inescapable, both for living things and for our planet. Change is especially present in our climate and landscape, affecting not just the terrain but also the types of plant and animal species that can survive in a certain location. Greenland, for example, is currently a frigid island, mainly covered by an ice sheet. Yet this wasn't always the case. Using the oldest DNA ever analyzed, scientists found that around two million years ago, Greenland was much warmer, with a unique ecosystem of forests containing an abundance of wildlife.

In addition to a diverse array of tree species, including birches, willows, firs, and cedars, the Greenland of two million years ago was home to reindeer, geese, hares, and lemmings. Just 500 miles (805 km) from the North Pole, the northern part of the island once contained at least 100 types of plants and animals, with DNA even confirming the presence of extinct mastodons.

Using the oldest DNA ever analyzed, scientists found that 2 million years ago, Greenland was much warmer, with a unique ecosystem.
Using the oldest DNA ever analyzed, scientists found that 2 million years ago, Greenland was much warmer, with a unique ecosystem.

The researchers can’t be certain that all of these species actually lived side by side. It's possible that the DNA they collected was mixed together from somewhat different locations. Regardless, the remarkable findings could be useful in helping other populations adapt when faced with their own inevitable changes in climate.

A lost world on the "roof" of our planet:

  • Two million years ago, temperatures in Greenland were around 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than they are today.

  • To conduct the research, University of Cambridge and University of Copenhagen scientists extracted environmental DNA (eDNA) from soil samples. This DNA is composed of genetic material that organisms leave behind in their environment, such as hair, spit, waste, or a decomposing body.

  • The same research also presented clues about Greenland's marine life from two million years ago. DNA revealed that horseshoe crabs and green algae were present, suggesting that Greenland’s waters were a lot warmer back then.

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    • Using the oldest DNA ever analyzed, scientists found that 2 million years ago, Greenland was much warmer, with a unique ecosystem.
      By: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
      Using the oldest DNA ever analyzed, scientists found that 2 million years ago, Greenland was much warmer, with a unique ecosystem.