Endangered Arctic Lichens
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Far above the arctic circle and far north of Alaska, some of the world's oldest living things survive on a high, remote, barren pass under extremely hostile conditions. Their ancestors are twice as old as the dinosaurs, and maybe much older. Some of the individuals living today are 8600 years old.

These are lichens - an extraordinary living thing that is not animal, not plant, not fungus, but a distinct mutualistic organism that is a mix of tiny plant-like photosynthesis engines and fungi. Experiments in outer space show some of the twenty thousand species of lichen can survive there for over a year exposed to the sun, cold, vacuum and cosmic rays, and continue to grow when returned to a friendly environment. Researchers believe they can live on Mars.

Best of all, reindeer need lichens to eat in the winter, so they can survive fierce arctic winters (and be healthy for Santa's deliveries).

Some lichens are very sensitive to air pollution and have been use to test air pollution for over 150 years. The exact place where I took these photos is confidential to help protect this region of diverse lichens, but I was worried that their greatest danger is in the air. From the cold and windy pass where I stood in northern Norway, I could see heavy smoke from some passing ships.

The lichens in these photos are mostly less than 1/16 inch tall and the photos show a 2-3 inch square view. There are various species, and are in varying life stages. The unevenness of the glaciated rocks makes the close-up photography in the arctic challenging (as does the wind and rain).

I used a 20 Mega Pixel Canon SX620HS camera and Corel Paintshop post-processing to select the in-focus portions of larger images and minimally adjust clarity and lighting.

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