Melting glaciers reveal land previously covered for 40,000 years

Source: Brocken Inaglory (Wikimedia Commons)

By Milo Moran

Global warming and climate change are real, it is caused by the greenhouse effect, of which humans are contributing to at a horrifying rate. As discussed in previous articles, we are nearing the point of no return with respects to the global average temperature. The global environmental effects of global warming are becoming more and more apparent.

Evidence from a recent study shows that the glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate, exposing areas of land which have been covered by ice for the last 40,000 years.

Glaciers advance south as summers get colder, and recede north as summers get warmer, making them one of the most reliable ways of measuring the year-on-year change in temperature. The Arctic feels the effects of cooling and warming faster than the rest of the globe, meaning that glaciers are feeling not a 1° but a 3° increase.

New research, carried out by the University of Colorado Boulder, has been using carbon dating to find the age of plants at the edges of ice caps. The plants have been newly exposed by the melting ice caps on Canada’s Baffin Island, which means that the radioactive carbon in their cells was absorbed from the atmosphere before they were frozen. The carbon dating gives an age of these plants of around 40,000 years, suggesting that the ice which has recently melted has been there for the same length of time.

This figure, 40,000 years, was consistent across 30 different ice caps on Baffin Island. Normally, scientists would expect different regions and altitudes to provide different plant ages, as higher altitudes keep their ice longer. The fact that the numbers are the same across the board suggests that the Arctic is experiencing its warmest century in 115,000 years. Climate scientist Simon Pendleton, the lead author of the study, said “everything is melting everywhere now.”

The heat-trapping greenhouse effect means that, since the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century, the planet’s temperature has risen by about 1°C. This sounds low, but the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showed that the 1° rise can be linked to the recent increase in extreme weather, such as the Beast from the East and the severe tropical storms in Central and North America.

If the temperature rises by another degree, the Arctic Ocean could be totally free of ice at least once a decade, coral reefs would decline by more than 99%, and sea levels could rise up to 2 metres on average. Scientist estimate that if the amount of greenhouse gas being released into the atmosphere is not curbed within 12 years, we will reach an irreversible “tipping point”. Professor Michael Mann describes this as a “minefield” – even if temperature rise is halted at 1.5°, we cannot predict exactly what will happen to the ecosystem.

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