A palynological study of an extinct arctic ecosystem from the Palaeocene of Northern Alaska

Robert J. Daly, David W. Jolley, Robert A. Spicer, Anders Ahlberg

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15 Citations (Scopus)


The Palaeocene arctic supported a vegetation type quite distinct from the tundra and polar desert of today. Here we demonstrate, through the palynological record, the structure of this extinct vegetation and its dynamics over this period. The Late Palaeocene coal-bearing units of the Sagwon Bluffs on Alaska's North Slope (present latitude 69º N) are predominantly fine-grained, non-marine and rich in palynomorph-bearing sediments. From the analysed palynological assemblage we were able to demonstrate, using ‘Detrended Correspondence Analysis’ (DCA) and ‘Fuzzy c-Means Cluster Analysis’ (FCM), 1) a complex heterogeneous ecosystem, 2) its major successional states, and 3) its development over an extended period. The climax state of the floodplain was dominated by flood-tolerant, deciduous conifers such as Metasequoia. A more heterogeneous mid-successional assemblage is represented by angiosperm and gymnosperm co-dominance with an angiosperm dominance of Corylus, while early-successional ecological groups, dominated by ferns and bryophytes, are considered to represent riparian and post-disturbance niches. The structure of this vegetation does not remain static over the course of the stratigraphic interval represented. We observe a particularly dramatic ecological change for instance, following the deposition of a large conglomeratic unit. It is hypothesized that this corresponds to altered drainage and/or precipitation on the North Slope. The vegetation examined herein shows marked similarities to that of other palaeobotanical studies from various sites of similar age at high northern latitudes. It is hence considered to represent an extensive and long-lived circumpolar arctic biome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-116
Number of pages10
JournalReview of Palaeobotany and Palynology
Issue number1-2
Early online date30 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank the Crafoord Foundation (Grant 20030705) for sponsoring the two field expeditions to Alaska during the summers of 2001 and 2005, and Gil Mull and Mawan Wartes of the State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys for their logistical help.


  • Palaeocene
  • Arctic
  • palynology
  • Metasequoia
  • vegetation
  • ecology


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