Ancient Plants Reveal Arctic Summers Haven't Been This Hot In 115,000 Years

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Preserved ancient moss collected from the margin of a retreating ice cap on Baffin Island.

"Having put some time in up there, and observed some of the changes going on, on the ground it is impressive, the rate and the magnitude at which change is occurring in the Arctic", said Pendleton, who took about five trips to the Baffin Island for field research associated with the study. Unlike glaciers, which slide along the bedrock and grind to a pulp nearly anything beneath, ice caps remain stable for long periods of time.

Lead author, Simon Pendleton and his team cross-checked their findings with multiple sources such as the ice measurements from nearby Greenland.

"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. The latter conserves lichens and moss in their original position in the ice for periods of time lasting thousands of years - a little like a cryogenic chamber.

"Our last century of warmth is likely greater than any century in the last 120,000 years". By cross-referencing with the plants, they show that the area has been covered by ice a lot longer than 40,000 years and that summers of our new climate are likely more blistering than anything in roughly 115,000-120,000 years. "Because dead plants are efficiently removed from the landscape, the radiocarbon age of rooted plants define the last time summers were as warm, on average, as those of the past century".

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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.

Ancient moss in Canada's Arctic that hasn't seen the light of day for at least 40,000 years (and quite possibly up to 120,000 years) is now cracking out of ice caps.

According to the study, these results, combined with data from ice cores taken on Baffin Island and Greenland, suggest that the region is now experiencing its warmest century in 115,000 years.

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

"We hope to continue our work up on Baffin Island; as the ice caps and glaciers continue to retreat, they will continue to expose more and more of these ancient landscapes", Pendleton said, "allowing us to continue to expand the records we have published here".

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