Last remnant of North American ice sheet on track to vanish

Last remnant of North American ice sheet on track to vanish

The last piece of the ice sheet that once blanketed much of North America is doomed to disappear in the next several centuries, says a new study by researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and the University of Colorado Boulder.

The Barnes Ice Cap, a Delaware-sized feature on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, is melting at a rapid pace, driven by increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that have elevated Arctic temperatures. The ice cap, while still 500 meters thick, is slated to melt in about 300 years under business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions.

The results provide compelling evidence that the current level of warming is almost unheard of in the past 2.5 million years, according to the authors. Only three times at most in that time period has the Barnes Ice Cap been so small, a study of isotopes created by cosmic rays that were trapped in rocks around the Barnes Ice Cap indicated.

"This is the disappearance of a feature from the last glacial age, which would have probably survived without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions," said Adrien Gilbert, a glaciologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia in Canada and lead author of the new study published online today in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

While the melting of the Barnes Ice Cap will likely have negligible effects on sea level rise, its end could herald the eventual dissolution of the larger ice sheets like Greenland and Antarctica, said CU-Boulder Professor Gifford Miller, a study co-author.

"I think the disappearance of the Barnes Ice Cap would be just a scientific curiosity if it were not so unusual," said Miller, the associate director of CU Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research who has conducted research on Baffin Island annually for the past five decades. "One implication derived from our results is that significant parts of the southern Greenland Ice Sheet also may be at risk of melting as the Arctic continues to warm."



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