Published: Sept. 11, 1997

Scores of scientists from around the world will be in Colorado Sept. 20 to Sept. 23 for a conference on the prehistoric environment of the Bering land bridge, believed to be the migration corridor for the earliest North Americans.

The conference was organized by the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Massachusetts with funding from the National Science Foundation. The three-day event will be held at The Nature Place Conference Center near Florissant, Colo.

More than 100 participants from the United States, Canada and Russia are expected to attend, said Scott Elias, a research associate at CU-Boulder’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research. Elias organized the conference with Professor Julie Brigham-Grette of the University of Massachusetts.

Participants will include geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, paleo-oceanographers, climate modelers and biologists. The goals are to summarize the current state of knowledge concerning past environments of Beringia and to establish a scientific agenda for ongoing research. Beringia was the unglaciated region of Siberia, Alaska and the Yukon Territories joined by the Bering land bridge.

The meeting is not open to the public, but media are invited to attend.

The Bering land bridge surfaced during Earth's ice ages when sea level in the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea dropped by 300 feet or more due to a buildup of glacial ice. During the most recent ice age that ended about 10,000 years ago, the land bridge covered 580,000 square miles -- an area roughly twice the size of Texas, Elias said.

Sessions will include discussions on the evolution and changes in plant and animal communities on Beringia over thousands of years. Researchers also will discuss interior and coastal routes that may have been used by the earliest humans migrating into the New World from Asia.

Other topics will include the geological origin of the land bridge, the environmental impacts of large temperature swings in the region during interglacial periods, and the role volcanism and glacial events may have played in Beringia eons ago.

A 1996 study by Elias and several colleagues showed the Bering land bridge vegetation during the last ice age some 12,000 years ago consisted primarily of tundra plants and shrubs and was unsuitable for long-term habitation by large grazing mammals.

Because of the abundance of mammoth and other large animal fossils in areas on either side of the land bridge, researchers had previously thought the environment of the land bridge was an arid grassland similar to the steppe region of northern Asia today that can support large populations of herbivores.

The conference researchers hope to develop a more accurate and detailed portrait of Beringia during the last several hundred thousand years.

For more information on the conference contact Elias at (303) 492-5158 or access the conference web site on the Internet at: