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North American ice sheet disappearing due to global warming

The Delaware-sized Barnes Ice Cap is situated in the center of Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada. The ice covers an area close to 6,000 square kilometers (2,300 square miles) in the area of the Baffin Mountains.

The Barnes Ice Cap contains some of the oldest ice in Canada – some of it being over 20,000 years old. The ice cap is what remains of the Laurentide ice sheet that periodically covered millions of square miles of North America since the beginning of the Quaternary Period about 2.5 million years ago, reports the Daily Mail.

A map of the Barnes Ice Cap resting on Baffin Island  Canada.

A map of the Barnes Ice Cap resting on Baffin Island, Canada.
Jeff Schmaltz/NASA Earth Observatory

The Laurentide Ice Sheet
The Laurentide Ice Sheet grew and shrank as the Earth went through a number of climate cycles, reaching as far down as New York, forming the city we know today. New York City’s Central Park is littered with boulders left behind with the ice sheet’s movement.

As a matter of fact, here is a bit of trivia for our readers – New York’s Flatbush neighborhood in Brooklyn got its name because it is the point where the ice stopped and began to retreat. And in what is now Chicago, 20,000 years ago, the area was buried under a mile thick layer of ice.

the conjoined ice sheets from the Rockies (the Cordillera ice sheet) and eastern Canada (the Laurent...

the conjoined ice sheets from the Rockies (the Cordillera ice sheet) and eastern Canada (the Laurentide ice sheet) blocked Alaska
University of Maryland

The last time the Laurentide Ice Sheet advanced to cover most of northern North America occurred between c. 95,000 and c. 20,000 years before the present day. There was a brief Younger Dryas cold epoch and a temporary re-advance of the ice sheet, which did not retreat from Nunavik until 6,500 years ago. The Ice cap stabilized about 2,000 years ago, changing little until recently when the effects of global warming caught up with it.

The Barnes Ice Cap is doomed to disappear
A new study by researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and the University of Colorado Boulder offers compelling evidence that shows rising temperatures in the Arctic have caused the Barnes Ice Cap to melt at an astounding rate. They further say that nothing short of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can prevent the ice cap from completely disappearing.

Glaciologist Roger Hooke drilled a hole into the Barnes Ice Cap in 1978 and cased it with pipes to m...

Glaciologist Roger Hooke drilled a hole into the Barnes Ice Cap in 1978 and cased it with pipes to measure internal strain in the ice cap. When he finished, the pipes stuck out above the ice by about 0.5 m (1.5 feet). When Miller visited the ice cap in July 2010, at least 32 m (100 feet) of pipe lay on the ground (broken, as shown here). That would equate to an average of about 1 meter (3 feet) of ice lost per year.
Gifford Miller

In the study published Tuesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, Dr. Adrien Gilbert, a glaciologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada and lead author of the study says, “This is the disappearance of a feature from the last glacial age, which would have probably survived without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.”

The disappearance of the Barnes Ice Cap will not affect sea level rise or have an impact on the environment to any great degree, says the study’s authors, but its disappearance could herald the dissolution of larger ice sheets. “The fact that it’s disappearing is a minor scientific curiosity,” said Gifford Miller, a glacial geologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and co-author of the new study.

“But its disappearance carries information about the really big ice caps. Given enough time on the path we’re currently following, then large portions of the Greenland Ice Sheet may also be at risk of disappearing, and that’s a big deal.”

This image shows Sagar Camp  the very summit of the Barnes Ice Cap and the remains of a glaciologica...

This image shows Sagar Camp, the very summit of the Barnes Ice Cap and the remains of a glaciological camp occupied in 1963 that was hurriedly abandoned. The camp has been buried by snow ever since and never seen before now. That it has just melted out is confirmed by the poles still vertically in place in the ice.
Gifford Miller

Researchers used a model developed by Adrien Gilbert and Gwenn Flowers from Simon Fraser University to estimate when the Barnes Ice Cap would disappear using different greenhouse gas scenarios. They discovered that the ice cap is melting at all elevations and they project it to be gone within 300 to 500 years.

Using data from rock samples collected at the site, they also discovered the ice cap had shrunk to its current size only three times in the past 2.5 million years. “The geological data is pretty clear that [the Barnes Ice Cap] almost never disappears in the interglacial times,” Miller said. “The fact that it’s disappearing now says we’re really outside of what we’ve experienced in a two-and-a-half million-year interval and we’re entering a new climate state.”

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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