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The Arctic Came South (and never left)

January 7, 2014

NC Museum of Natural Sciences Exhibits Blog

By Helen Chappell

Think it’s cold outside now? About 18,000 years ago, this might’ve been a typical winter day in North Carolina!

During the last glacial maximum (what most folks refer to as the last ice age), ice sheets extended from the Arctic to as far south as New York City. Though North Carolina was warm enough to be blanketed with forests, not ice, it wasn’t exactly the “Land of the Longleaf Pine” that we know today. Instead, spruce-fir forest covered the state.

As the cold and glaciers retreated, so did the spruce-fir forest … mostly. You can still find pockets of the old, cold forest atop our highest peaks. Only in pockets, though, because the warmer climate in the valleys means that the spruce-fir ecosystem doesn’t thrive at lower elevations.

These little islands of spruce-fir forest have been isolated from one another for tens of thousands of years now…

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