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January 30th, 2008

Baffin Island ice caps smallest in at least 1,600 years

Rebecca Anderson, Gifford Miller, Stephen DeVogel, and colleagues at SUNY Buffalo and U. of Arizona have determined that ice caps on the northern plateau of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic are currently smaller than they have been for at least the last 1,600 years, with their extent shrinking by more than 50% since 1958. Even with no additional warming, the ice caps are expected to disappear in 50 years or less.

North Arm outlet glacier descending from the Baffin Island ice cap. Photo by Gifford 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. The research team's results are based on radiocarbon dating, radiocarbon in rocks, satellite imagery, and aerial photos. Their paper was published online in Geophysical Research Letters and featured in the Jan. 28 edition of the American Geophysical Union journal highlights. Gifford Miller also recorded a CU News audio interview (podcast).

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