BAFFIN ISLANDS | The ice melts
Wednesday, January 30, 2019, 15:49 – The melting of ice caps reveals plants on the island of Bafin, which have been frozen for more than 40,000 years, according to a new study, which led the author to believe that the last century of warming is greater than anyone else in the last 115,000 years.
Simon Pendleton, PhD at the University of Boulder Colorado, began to look at the ice-based plants in 2013.
Adviser to Pendleton's doctor, Gifford Miller, then worked on the island and noticed that as if the glaciers melted, they would discover the ground beneath them, including some plants that were erect and rooted.
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"They are really insane," Pendleton said. "They are dirty brown lumps that sit at the edge of the ice."
They took samples of about 150 ice caps in late August and September, when they were the lowest.
For the study, the researchers collected plants on the edge of the ice caps and sent them to a laboratory where they were dated with carbon, allowing them to find out approximately how old they are.
But carbon dating is limited and can only tell researchers that plants of 30 of the ice caps were older than 40,000 years ago. Therefore, they looked at other studies to find out what the climate looked like 40,000 years ago, and concluded that the plants had to be frozen before.
"You have the right in the middle of the last glacial period … Zolknife would be under a lot of ice several thousand feet thick," says Pendleton.
He said that the last time the temperature was anywhere close to what it is today would be 115,000 years ago, leading to hypotheses that the plants have been frozen since then.
Miller holds samples of old plants collected near the glacial ice streams near the island of Bafin. (Photo: Matthew Kennedy)
He said one of the advantages of glacial experiments is that they are "purely reactionary".
"If the climate warms up, the glacier will decrease, the climate cools, glaciers will expand, and so their fluctuations are more direct record of past climate change."
But he said the research should be done fairly quickly and regularly to be a good indicator because "once these plants are exposed, they will either be removed from the wind and water landscape, or they will actually grow."
When this happens, the data is lost.
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"There's kind of a race against the clock in terms of getting data, because once the glaciers leave, the plants will be removed or returned, you will lose the archive forever."
He said that glaciers are retiring at an incredible rate. "Some of them will disappear within a decade," Pendleton said of the smaller, thinner glaciers.
Pendleton also said that some of the plants found were much younger, and the age of plants had a large range. He said the study did not show any calls for action. Instead, it is a glimpse of what the state of the glaciers in the region is at this point.
"The size of the action it will take now will have to be extremely large, extremely large to restore our current climate," he said.
Ice melting in the Buffin region. (Photo: Matthew Kennedy)
LOCAL OBSERVERS REVEAL CHANGES
Some inhabitants of this area experienced a change in frost.
Billy Arnwalk, 60, lived in Qikiqtarjuaq, just behind the east coast of Buffin Island, all his life. He has been dressed in this area for 18 years, and said he took customers from walking in sparkling milk covers where many plant samples were taken and noted a change in the ice.
He said that 10 years ago there was an area in the ice caps where people would ski, but not more.
"[It’s] too dangerous, too many cracks and some people were constantly falling, "he said.
He also took an artist on the glaciers in the area 11 years ago to take photographs and paint. He recently took the same artist across the area again and said the change in the landscape was astonishing.
"It's so melted [in] 11 years, "said Arnakhki.
It's not just the melting that he has noticed.
"The look seemed pure white. Much of it closer to the water became … muddy.
"Once you come to that place it melts much faster … it seems [to] accelerating the process of melting. "
Arnaquk said he is not concerned about the melting of ice, because communities are good at adapting to climate change.
This article is written for Jamie Malbef.
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