Pleistocene Park: Bringing Back the Ice Age and the Woolly Mammoth

By: Anabelle Keimach (Correspondent)

After watching their home in Siberia melt away, two Russian scientists have a plan to slow the effects of climate change by restoring the ecosystem of the last Ice Age.

According to the U.S. government’s latest climate report, temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Arctic than in any other area of the world. The once permanently frozen soil called permafrost is now melting, releasing the dangerous amounts of greenhouse gasses that were trapped inside. Russian Geophysicist, Sergey Zimov and his son Nikita Zimov are now attempting to re-cool the permafrost by transforming a 50-mile nature reserve located in Northern Siberia so that it resembles what it once looked like in the Pleistocene Era.

Sergey Zimov says that in the Pleistocene Age, the area would consist of grasslands and savanna with very few trees.

“It’s a grand experiment to test whether large herbivores—elk, moose, reindeer, horses, and bison—can, simply by grazing, bring back a grass-dominated ecosystem called the mammoth steppe,” says Science Magazine in the article, Born to Be Wild.

Sergey Zimov explains that when humans became the main predator in this region, the woolly mammoth and other large grazers were hunted to extinction.

“Forest replaced grasslands and that made Siberia vulnerable to a warming climate. Because trees trap more heat than grass. And winter temperatures of 40-below can’t freeze the permafrost if there are no herds of animals to trample the insulating snow,” said 60 Minutes reporter, Scott Pelley.

In order for the land to resemble what it once was, the Zimovs must knock down miles of forest and repopulate the land with large grazers, including possibly, the woolly mammoth.

Nikita Zimov, the director of the park, says that the success of the park does not depend on reviving the woolly mammoth, but it would be incredibly beneficial if they could. “It’s like, do you need your right arm to live and do your job? No, you don’t need it, but with your arm, you will do it better. So, same with [the] mammoth,” said Zimov.

Currently, Harvard geneticist George Church is leading the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival project in Boston, Massachusetts to take on this seemingly insurmountable task.

“This [reviving the mammoth] would be done by comparing the genomes of the mammoth and its closest living cousin, the Asian elephant, and editing the genes of the latter to be more like the former,” explains New Atlas journalist, Michael Irving, in his article, Welcome to Pleistocene Park: The mammoth plan to recreate an ice age ecosystem in Siberia.

Sharon High School biology teacher, James Dixon says that George Church has been doing cutting edge research in many areas such as rewriting the genome and genetic engineering of bacteria (E. coli) in addition to the mammoth project. “ I won’t be surprised if he gets this done,” said Dixon.

The end result would not be a true woolly mammoth but would serve the same function for the environment that their ancestors did thousands of years ago.

The Zimovs predict that their plan will take decades to accomplish, and have dedicated their lives to the park for the greater good of our increasingly warming globe.

“I am trying to solve the larger problem of climate change. I’m doing this for humans,” said Nikita Zimov.

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