From a plant in Peru that was flash frozen 5,000 years ago, we have evidence that past climate change happened in hours. Another reason we know there was sudden climate change 5,200 years ago is from the prehistoric man called Otzi, who was frozen in the Alps around that time and only discovered a few years ago, since the Alps are melting. "We know that the Ice Man, a preserved Neolithic hunter exposed by a retreating glacier in the European Alps, was trapped by the ice around 5,200 years ago," says geologist Lonnie Thompson. "If it happened in the past, it might happen again, and that type of abrupt event in today's world would mean worldwide chaos, both economically and socially."
Thompson and his team are looking for more frozen plants that may be have been exposed by the retreating glacier in the Peruvian Andes Mountains. So far, they've found the body of a small insect, perfectly preserved and frozen 210 feet below the surface and three individual pieces of plants that were frozen at a depth of 384 feet. The flash frozen plant from 5,000 years ago is their most amazing find. "This is a soft-bodied plant," he says. "It had to be captured by a very large snowfall at the time, a snowfall and climate change that began very abruptly, fast enough to capture a plant but not kill it. That is astounding.
"We know the first plant could not have been exposed at any time during in that 5,200-year history or it would have decayed," he says, meaning that the glacier has remained frozen for over 5,000 years?until now. They found a second plant about 4 miles away, which DNA testing shows has been buried for 2,200 years, which is a time when other records show there was abrupt climate change.
Thompson's team is working quickly so they can retrieve any frozen plants and insects that are there before the glacier melts completely. When they started surveying the area in 1963, it was retreating at a rate of 15.4 feet a year, but the melt has accelerated to the rate of 672 feet per year, which is 40 times as fast.
Thompson says, "Something happened 5,200 years ago that was abrupt and very large-scale." But what caused it?and will it happen again?
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