UAF undertakes study of prehistoric Bering Land Bridge

Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 4:50 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has received a grant to study what the Bering Land Bridge, a prehistoric path between Asia and North America, looked like thousands of years ago.

Sitting on the northwestern edge of North America, Alaska offers a unique opportunity to study how the continent was first populated in ancient times.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the Bering Land Bridge,” said Sarah Fowell, Professor in the UAF Department of Geosciences.

Millenia ago, lower sea levels allowed for this land connection between modern-day Russia and Alaska. “It must have been an exciting place. It was a big place, maybe a thousand miles from north to south at it’s maximum extent, and 500 miles wide in places,” Fowell said.

Now a research team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks is going out to the Bering Sea to learn more about the area’s environment at the time. Fowell pondered, “What was it like out there? What was growing there? We know the whole thing wasn’t ice-covered. Animals crossed but they also lived there.”

An expedition will sail out into the Bering Sea and collect sediment samples from deep on the ocean floor. According to Fowell, “From those cores, we’re going to be looking at microfossils. I will be looking at terrestrial pollen grains and use those to reconstruct what the vegetation was like.”

From there, researchers hope to find out what the climate was like. “It might also help us answer the question why some animals crossed and others did not.”

This project has been in the works since at least 2005, and Fowell says it has received a grant of $1.7 million to fund “supplies and lab work and ship time, graduate students, undergraduate assistants.”

Much planning remains to be done, with the boat expected to launch in 2023 and spend a month collecting samples.

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