Previously hidden under a Swiss glacier, a 10,800-year old tree trunk was discovered and tells us the Alps were much warmer in the early Holocene than today.
University of Bern Professor Emeritus Christian Schlüchter says 10,800 year old larch tree trunk found under glacier Alps means it had to be warmer 10,800 years ago than today. Image: cropped from EIKE.
In 2018 renowned Swiss geologist Christian Schlüchter received a tip from the local forester of the exciting find that had been revealed by the retreating Morteratsch glacier. But this specimen was unusual in the sense it was some 2 meters long and included the rootstock. Moreover, it also was astonishingly intact, and even included some bark.
The unusual good condition of the larch tree trunk meant that it must not have been transported downward by the glacier, and thus not ground up in the process. This means its resting location had to be very close to where it had originally grown.
The SRF reported:
‘This is unique,’ says Schlüchter, saying he has never discovered anything like it in the Alps. With wood finds, he says, there is always one central question: ‘How far from the site did the trees grow, how far did the glacier transport them?’
A tree in this condition must have stood in the immediate vicinity, otherwise the trunk would look different, Schlüchter says.”
Schlüchter, a professor emeritus at the University of Bern, has been studying glacier wood for decades.
10,800 years ago, lived 337 years
According to Schlüchter, the original larch tree had lived 337 years before it died and the glacier buried it. Research shows that the larch started growing about 10,800 years ago, less than 1000 years after the last ice age ended.
The finding tells us that there used to be forests where glaciers are found today, which means the “Morteratsch glacier was once much smaller than it is today,” reports the SRF. The region was obviously warmer than today.
Rapid climate change 10,500 years ago
Schlüchter also points out that barely 1,000 years after the end of the ice age, there were already larches up there. Schlüchter says: “That shows the unheard-of dynamics we see here.”
More studies will be conducted on the tree specimen and parts of the large trunk will be on display in the museum in Pontresina in the future, writes the SRF.
Christian Schlüchter is Professor emeritus for Quaternary Geology and Paleoclimatology at the University of Bern in Switzerland. He has authored/co-authored over 250 papers.