Ice has been retreating from the Arctic at such an alarming rate that landscapes which were last visible 120,000 years ago are now being exposed again, something which scientists have especially noticed on Baffin Island in Canada.
As Live Science reports, scientists have speculated that the rocky and ancient landscapes that are visible again today most likely date back to the Eemian period, which was a much warmer time than today, with an average increase in temperature of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).
With the warmer weather during the Eemian period also came much higher sea levels, which scientists have estimated were approximately 30 feet higher than today.
Study leader Simon Pendleton, from the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, has noted that the sharp rise in temperatures over the last century is almost certainly the warmest the Earth has seen for at least 120,000 years, as evidenced by the exposed landscape in the Arctic which is now visible due to the dramatically retreating ice.
“The last century of warmth is likely greater than any century prior to this going back 120,000 years.”
On the tundra plains of Baffin Island, scientists have been able to date the delicate mosses and Arctic plants that were formerly preserved by the sheets of ice which protected them.
Pendleton and his colleagues managed to safely extract 124 samples of these plants from the island, and after radiocarbon dating them, discovered that they could be dated just as far back as radiocarbon dating allows, which is 40,000 years, meaning that while the plants are undoubtedly older than this, they are at least this old, and were safely under Arctic ice for a very long time.
To confirm these radiocarbon dating measurements, scientists measured the age of minerals in the rocks close to the vegetation, which demonstrated that Arctic ice would have been covering both the vegetation and rocks for a minimum of at least 40,000 years.
As Pendleton explained, he and the other scientists were well aware that they were going to get some fairly dramatic results with the current state of global warming, but were truly surprised to discover such advanced temperatures today which are representative of those that occurred during the last interglacial period.
“We know there is dramatic change occurring and will continue to occur, but I don’t know that we were expecting to find evidence that we’re now seeing landscapes and temperatures similar to that of the last interglacial period.”
The new study which looks into the rapid melting of Arctic ice, which has exposed landscapes not seen on Baffin Island and other regions for at least 120,000 years, has been published in Nature Communications.