A study conducted by an international team of scientists reveals that the Arctic might soon become an ice-free zone. The research was based on analysis of sediment cores from Lake El’gygytgyn, referred by the authors as “Lake E”, and published in the latest issue of the journal Science.
Samples were collected back in 2009, when the team attempted to understand the history of Arctic climate by looking at the situation from 2.2 to 3.6 million years ago- the middle Pliocene and early Pleistocene.
Julie Brigham-Grette, the lead author of the publication and a professor in the department of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, explains that most probably the Arctic was free of any ice, and it was covered by forests.
To reach this conclusion, the team studied sediments from “Lake E”- the only lake in the Arctic not affected by continental ice sheet erosion during the ice ages. Nowadays, the lake is fully covered by ice for most of the year, however this did not prevent the team to collect samples from the sediment core.
The scientists discovered vegetation species such as Douglas fir and hemlock, characteristic for warm summers and warm winters. They also indicated that the slightly higher concentrations of CO2 in the Arctic during the Pliocene compared to today’s levels, clearly indicate that we are not far from repeating history.
The study is pretty remarkable in a way, as it provides better understanding of historical climates in this vulnerable region of the planet. As pointed out by Gifford Miller, a professor in the department of geological sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, who conducts research in the Canadian Arctic, even if emissions are completely stopped now, the ice might well disappear sooner than we think.
The team is convinced that by understanding climate changes in the past, scientists will be much better prepared and will be able to deal with possible future “surprises” that raise in temperature might cause.