Baffin Island landscapes ice-free for first time in 40,000 years

Retreating glaciers are leaving plants ice-free for the first time in 40,000 years. Photo by University of Colorado

Jan. 27 (UPI) — Rapidly retreating Arctic glaciers have revealed ancient moss and lichens, ice-free for the first time in 40,000 years, according to new analysis by researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

The survey of newly thawed plants, contextualized by temperature records gleaned from Greenland ice cores, suggests the Arctic is experiencing summer highs warmer than any century in 115,000 years.

“The Arctic is currently warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, so naturally, glaciers and ice caps are going to react faster,” Simon Pendleton, doctoral researcher at Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, said in a news release.

Pendleton and his colleagues radiocarbon dated plants found near the edges of 30 ice caps on Baffin Island, the fifth-largest island in the world.

“We travel to the retreating ice margins, sample newly exposed plants preserved on these ancient landscapes and carbon date the plants to get a sense of when the ice last advanced over that location,” Pendleton said. “Because dead plants are efficiently removed from the landscape, the radiocarbon age of rooted plants defines the last time summers were as warm, on average, as those of the past century.”

Their analysis — published this week in the journal Nature Communications — showed all but one of the 30 locations were continuously covered by ice during at least the last 40,000 years.

Glaciers consistently reposed to warming and cooling patterns, making them an ideal proxy for historic climate change. When viewed in context of temperature data revealed by ice cores in Greenland, the latest plant analysis suggests the region is experiencing its warmest summers in 115 millennia.

If the warming trends continue, scientists warn Baffin Island is likely to be entirely ice-free within a few centuries.

Under normal cooling and warming patterns, scientists would expect to find a wider range of plant ages, with some areas having previously melted and others remaining frozen.

“A high elevation location might hold onto its ice longer, for example,” Pendleton said. “But the magnitude of warming is so high that everything is melting everywhere now. We haven’t seen anything as pronounced as this before.”


  1. 20,000 years ago, the North American continent was under a mile thick sheet of ice. 500 years ago, the Gulf Stream current was stopped when the last of the ice wall broke loose and drained the Great Lakes basin. That’s what caused the mini ice age that caused the European famine that starved so many people. Now, suddenly, all this melting is means doing even though it’s been going on since the ice age. Just remember….. The Religion of Man Made Climate Change is a very profitable venture.

  2. Profitable only because we now need to learn how to live or die with the consequences. Climate change deniers should love this opportunity to gain tremendous wealth from the suffering of others worldwide.

  3. Thanks for the excellent article and well presented research. I don’t think there’s value in debating individuals that believe what they want to believe regardless of the data so to them I say nothing but have a peaceful day.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here