Some idyllic, alpine meadows and giant, red cedars in coastal rain forests may only be fond memories in B.C.'s not-too-distant future, according to Simon Fraser University biology professor Dr. Rolf Mathewes.
By studying the past in the form of pollen and other plant remains, Mathewes has gained valuable insights into what the future might hold. "We know that the climate was warmer in the past and how it affected forest cover, and we can use this information as an analog to predict the future," he explains.
Mathewes studied pollen to reconstruct vegetation - as old as 10,000 years - found in lake bottoms and wetlands. He has found that from 9,000 to 7,000 years ago in B.C. there was a warming trend similar to what is currently being predicted for the next century. His findings, confirmed by a serendipitous discovery on Castle Peak in the South Chilcotins near Lillooet, have serious implications for the province and its economy.
During the ancient warming period, forests on the south coast had more abundant Douglas fir, alder and bracken ferns than today. "All three species grow after a severe disturbance such as fire. We have found a large amount of charcoal in the lake bottoms dating to that period (7,000-9,000 years ago) indicating forest fires," Mathewes explains. He attributes the fires to a drier, warmer climate with prolonged droughts and possibly to an increase in the number of storms.
A chance discovery on Castle Peak helped confirm what Mathewes discovered in his lab. A surveyor from the Geological Survey of Canada, encamped on Castle Peak, went to collect water for his tea in a nearby stream. When he looked in the stream he found a log, even though he was 100 metres above the treeline.
Eventually Mathewes was called in and visited the site. "This serendipitous discovery helps confirm that the climate was warmer many years ago and helps
confirm our theories of what happened in the past," he says. "The discovery was truly independent
Contact: Ken Mennell
Simon Fraser University