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News – Melting glaciers exposes 40,000 summer plants of Baffin Island



Baffin Island | Melting ice

CBC News

Wednesday, January 30, 2019, 15:49 – According to a new study, the melting of ice caps exposes plants on Baffin Island, which have been frozen for more than 40,000 years, which leads the author to believe that there has been more warming in the last century than in any other over the last 115,000 years.

Simon Pendleton, a researcher at the University of Boulder, Colorado, began studying plants at the base of ice caps in 2013.

Pendleton’s PhD consultant, Gifford Miller, then did work on the island and noticed that when the glaciers melted, they would find the soil beneath them, including some plants that were vertical and rooted.

(CONNECTED: Glaciers are melting at the fastest pace in 400 years)

“They are really invisible,” said Pendleton. "These are dirty brown lumps that sit near the edge of the ice."

They took samples from about 150 ice caps at the end of August and September, when they were the smallest.

For the study, scientists collected plants on the edge of ice caps and sent them to a laboratory where they were dated with carbon, which allowed them to approximately determine how old they were.

But carbon dating is limited and can only tell researchers that the plants of 30 ice caps were over 40,000 years old. Therefore, they turned to other studies to find out how the climate looked 40,000 years ago, and concluded that the plants should have been frozen before.

“You are right in the middle of the last ice age … Yellowknife will be under a large piece of ice several thousand meters thick,” Pendleton said.

He said that most recently the temperature was about the same as today, would have been 115,000 years ago, which led him to speculate that the plants have been frozen since then.

Miller stores samples of ancient plants collected near glacier flows near Baffin Island. (Matthew Kennedy Photography)

He said that one of the advantages of experiments on glaciers is that they are "purely reactionary."

“If the climate warms, the glacier will shrink. The climate will cool, the glaciers will expand. And so their fluctuations are more direct evidence of past climate change. ”

But he said that the research should be carried out fairly quickly and regularly to be a good indicator, because "once these plants are exposed, they will either be removed from the landscape by wind and water, or they will really grow back."

When this happens, data is lost.

(CONNECTED: Antarctica is melting, ice is accelerating)

"There is a race against time for data acquisition, because as soon as the glaciers disappear and the plants are removed or grow, you will lose the archive forever."

He said that glaciers are retreating at an incredible speed. “Some of them will disappear within a decade,” Pendleton said of smaller, thinner glaciers.

Pendleton also said that some of the plants found were much younger, and the age of the plants was great. He said the study does not indicate any calls for action. Rather, it is a look at the state of the glaciers in the region at the moment.

“The number of actions that must be taken right now must be extremely large in order to return our current climate,” he said.

Melting ice caps near Baffin Island. (Matthew Kennedy Photography)

LOCAL OBSERVERS SEE CHANGES AS GOOD

Some residents of the area noticed a change in the ice floes.

Billy Arnakuk, 60 years old, lived all his life in Kikyktardjuq, not far from the east coast of Baffin Island. He was a trader in the area for 18 years and said that he had taken clients on a hike in Penny Ice Hats, where many plant samples were taken, and noticed changes in the ice.

He said that 10 years ago there was an area in the ice caps where people skied, but not longer.

"[It’s] too dangerous, too many cracks, and some people continue to fall, ”he said.

In addition, 11 years ago, he brought an artist to the glaciers in the area to take photographs and make paintings. Recently, he again led the same artist through the area and said that the change of landscape is astounding.

"So much melted away [in] 11 years old, "said Arnakwuk.

This is not only the melting that he noticed.

“Before, the glacier was like pure white. Most of its area closer to the water has become … dirty.

"As soon as you get to this place, it melts much faster … it seems [to] speed up the melting process. "

Arnakuk said he doesn’t worry about melting ice because communities are well adapted to the changing climate.

This article was written for CBC by Jamie Malbuif.

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