Washington, Jan 29 : A new study has shown that ice caps on the northern plateau of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic have shrunk by more than 50 percent in the last half century as a result of warming, and are expected to disappear by the middle of the century.
Conducted at the University of Colorado at Boulder, US, radiocarbon dating of dead plant material emerging from beneath the receding ice margins show the Baffin Island ice caps are now smaller in area than at any time in at least the last 1,600 years.
In addition to carbon-dating plant material from the ice edges, the researchers extracted and analyzed carbon 14 that formed inside the Baffin Island rocks as a result of ongoing cosmic radiation bombardment, revealing the amount of time the rocks have been exposed.
"The analysis of carbon 14 in quartz crystals indicated that for several thousand years prior to the last century, there had been more ice cover on Baffin Island," said geological sciences Professor Gifford Miller of CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.
"Even with no additional warming, our study indicates these ice caps will be gone in 50 years or less," he added.
The researchers also used satellite data and aerial photos beginning in 1949 to document the shrinkage of more than 20 ice caps on the northern plateau of Baffin Island, which are up to 4 miles long, generally less than 100 yards thick and frozen to their beds.
"The ice is so cold and thin that it doesn't flow, so the ancient landscape on which they formed is preserved pretty much intact," said Miller.
According to Miller, the study also showed two distinct bursts of Baffin Island ice-cap growth commencing about 1280 A.D. and 1450 A.D., each coinciding with ice-core records of increases in stratospheric aerosols tied to major tropical volcanic eruptions.
"The unexpected findings provide tantalizing evidence that the eruptions were the trigger for the Little Ice Age, a period of Northern Hemisphere cooling that lasted from roughly 1250 to 1850," said Miller.
According to Miller, the increase of ice extent across the Arctic in recent millennia is thought to be due in large part to decreasing summer solar radiation there as a result of a long-term, cyclic wobble in Earth's axis.
"This makes the recent ice-cap reduction on Baffin Island even more striking," he said.