Arctic might be witnessing its hottest summer in 1,15,000 years

Researchers studying glacial retreat on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic have discovered landscapes and plant life that have not been seen for more than 40,000 years.

"The Arctic is now warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, so naturally, glaciers and the ice caps are going to react faster", Simon Pendleton, the study's lead author and a doctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, said in a statement. That's led to more summer melt, which has exposed moss and lichen at the margins of the ice caps.

Ice caps are stable and do not move like icebergs, and the matter lying on the ground is intact until the cap remains in place.

"The high elevation landscapes that host these landscapes are striking in their own right, but knowing that the surface that you are walking on has been ice covered for millennia, and only now being exposed, is humbling", lead study author Simon Pendleton told MNN. As such, anything caught beneath them ends up as part of a vast frozen time capsule.

"To be able to see it and walk on the ice cap and understand we're in a time that's exposing landscapes that haven't seen sunlight in possibly 120,000 years, that has a profound effect", Pendleton said. Year to year, since Pendleton first came to the island in 2005, he has seen ice gradually retreating from the edge of the ice cap.

"The odd thing about these mosses is that a lot of them can just start growing again", Gifford Miller of the University of Colorado Boulder explained in a video.

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Pendleton and his colleagues traveled to retreating ice margins across Baffin Island, sampling newly exposed plants from varying elevations and exposures that had been preserved by advancing ice, then under radiocarbon dating to establish when ice last advanced over that specific site. The region is characterized by deep fjords and high plateaus, the latter of which is covered in ice caps.

Pendleton said radiocarbon dating's effectiveness only goes back about 40,000 years; hence, his findings that ice coverage of the region under study goes back "at least" 40,000 years.

Processing the samples, and radiocarbon dating them in labs at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and the University of California Irvine, showed that the ancient plants at all 30 ice caps have likely been continuously covered by ice for at least the past 40,000 years.

"When viewed in context of temperature records from Greenland ice cores, these results suggest that the past century of warming is likely greater than any preceding century in the past 115,000 years", they write.

The scientists calculate that Baffin Island could be ice-free within the next few centuries.

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