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News – A glacier mound exhibits 40,000-year-old Baffin Island plant


CBC News

Wednesday, January 30, 2019, 15:49 – Dusting ice caps reveals plants on the Baffin Island that have been frozen for more than 40,000 years, according to a new study, stating that the author believes that the centuries of warming has been greater than any other in the last 115,000 years.

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

Pendleton's PhD Advisor, Gifford Miller, then worked on the island and noticed that icebergs would melt and uncover the soil below them, including some upright and rooted plants.

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"They're really unobtrusive," Pendleton said. "These are dirty brown barks that sit on the edge of the ice."

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

The researchers collected the plants on the edge of ice caps and sent them to the laboratory where they were carbon, allowing them to find out how old they are.

But carbon dating is limited and could only tell researchers that 30 ice caps were older than 40,000 years ago. So 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 earlier.

"You are right in the middle of the last ice age … Yellowknife would be under a large part of the ice a few thousand feet thick," Pendleton said.

He said that the last time the temperature was close to what was 115,000 years ago, which led him to hypothesize that the plants had frozen since then.

Miller holds samples of ancient plants collected near ice ice flows near the island of Baffin. (Photo by Matthew Kennedy)

He said that one of the benefits of experiments on glaciers is "purely reactionary".

"If the climate warms up, the glacier will shrink." The climate is cool, the glaciers will expand, and their fluctuations are more direct indicators of climate change in the past. "

But he said that research must be carried out fairly quickly and regularly to be a good indicator because "when these plants are exposed, they are either removed from the landscape with wind and water, or will actually grow again."

When this happens, the data is lost.

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"There's a kind of race against time in terms of getting data, because when the glaciers disappear and the plants are removed or renewed, you'll lose the archive forever."

He said the glaciers were pulling at incredible speed. "Some of them will disappear within ten years," Pendleton said about smaller, shorter 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 did not make any calls to action. Instead, it's a look at the state of the glaciers in the region at this time.

"The amount you should take now should be extremely large, exceptionally large, to regain our current climate," he said.

Balls of ice cap in the region of the Baffin Islands. (Photo by Matthew Kennedy)


Some residents of this area have noticed a change in ice.

The 60-year-old Billy Arnaquq lived in Qikiqtarjuaqu, on the eastern coast of Baffin Island, throughout his life. He has been an outfit in the field for 18 years and said he took customers to hike in Penny Ice Caps where they took many plant samples and noticed a change in ice.

He said that 10 years ago there was an area in ice caps where people would ski but no longer.

"[It’s] too dangerous, too much cracks, and some people are constantly falling.

He also took an artist on glaciers in the area 11 years ago to photograph and create images. He recently took the same artist back through the area and said that landscape change was astonishing.

So much soaked [in] 11 years, Arnaquq said.

It's not just what he noticed.

"The iceberg used to be like white in the past. A big area nearer to water has become … muddy.

"When you get to that place, it gets faster mushy … it does." [to] accelerate the melting process. "

Arnaquq said he was not worried about ice melting because the communities were well adapted to climate change.

This article was written for CBC Jamie Malbeuf.

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