MOST TROUBLING: Canadian Arctic temperatures at their highest in 44,000 years
Warming, scientists say, started in the 1970s
The fifth largest island in the world, the Baffin Island is located just west of Greenland. It is here that researchers have gauged Arctic temperatures, and the news is not comforting. The temperatures here are at their highest in 44,000 years, in a growing heating trend that can be traced to the 1970s.
The warmth there exceeds that of the Early Holocene era, researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder say. During that period, the amount of the sun's energy reaching the Northern Hemisphere in summer was roughly nine percent greater than today.
"The key piece here is just how unprecedented the warming of Arctic Canada is," Professor Gifford Miller said. A fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research who led the study, Miller says that "This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."
Along with his colleagues, Miller used dead moss clumps emerging from melting ice caps from the island as tiny calendars. Boasting of four different ice caps, radiocarbon dates show the mosses had not been exposed to the elements since at least 44,000 to 51,000 years ago.
Radiocarbon dating is only accurate to about 50,000 years. Since Earth's geological record shows it was in a glaciation stage prior to that time, the indications are that Canadian Arctic temperatures today have not been matched or exceeded for roughly 120,000 years.
Compiling the age distribution of 145 radiocarbon-dated plants in the highlands of Baffin Island that were exposed by ice recession during the year they were collected proved daunting to researchers. All samples collected were within one meter of the ice caps, which are generally receding by two to three meters a year.
"The oldest radiocarbon dates were a total shock to me," Miller said.
"Where the ice is cold and thin, it doesn't flow, so the ancient landscape on which they formed is preserved pretty much intact," Miller added.
Reconstructing the past climate of Baffin Island beyond the limit of radiocarbon dating, the team used data from ice cores previously retrieved by international teams from the nearby Greenland Ice Sheet.
Summer temperatures cooled in the Canadian Arctic by about five degrees Fahrenheit from roughly 5,000 years ago to about 100 years ago. This period includes the Little Ice Age from 1275 to about 1900.
"Although the Arctic has been warming since about 1900, the most significant warming in the Baffin Island region didn't really start until the 1970s," Miller said. "And it is really in the past 20 years that the warming signal from that region has been just stunning. All of Baffin Island is melting, and we expect all of the ice caps to eventually disappear, even if there is no additional warming."
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