New Study Finds Arctic Experiencing Hottest Temps in Nearly 120,000 Years; Lead Author: All Baffin Ice Caps Set to ‘Eventually Disappear’

“All of Baffin Island is melting, and we expect all the ice caps to eventually disappear, even if there is no additional warming.” Gifford Miller, University of Colorado climate scientist and co-author of a recent scientific study entitled: Unprecedented recent summer warmth in Arctic Canada.


Baffin Island September, 2013

(Satellite shot of Baffin Island and surrounding Arctic environs in September of 2013. Image source: NASA)

Baffin Island is a frozen archipelago situated to the west of Greenland and to the north and east of Hudson Bay. Like Greenland, it straddles the 70th parallel as well as the Arctic Circle. And like Greenland it is showing increasing signs of unprecedented warmth and melting. Though Baffin does not boast the massive ice caps of Greenland, large glaciers still cover much of its lands and fjords. The remaining areas are littered with small brown and green grasses and shrubs struggling up from rocky outcrops or from wide ranges of the now thawing tundra.

Like so many other places in our world, Baffin Island is a place where the deep past is coming into collision with a rapid and radical transition. A transition caused by humans and their endlessly increasing use of carbon-based fuels.

Over the past 150 years humans have released enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to achieve a global concentration of this gas that, by spring of 2013, exceeded 400 parts per million. This unprecedented high level, a level nearly 50% higher than the global concentration 150 years ago, was last seen on the Earth around 3.6 million years ago. And if past climate states are any true guide, then the vast volumes of greenhouse gasses already released into the atmosphere by humans are enough to melt all the ice on Baffin and at least half the ice on Greenland. It is this understanding of the effects of greenhouse gasses on past climates and ice states that prompted Miller to claim we’ve already released enough CO2 to melt the remaining ice on an isle that has been locked in freezing conditions since the dawn of humankind.

A Message From Earth’s Thawing Tundra

On Baffin and all over the high Arctic, vast swaths of the world’s tundra are rapidly being liberated from an eons-old ice cap. Scientists Gifford H. Miller, Scott J. Lehman, Kurt A. Refsnider, John R. Southon, and Yafang Zhong journeyed to Baffin’s thawing ice with a key question in mind: ‘When was the last time this region of the far north thawed?’ They came armed with the latest scientific tools and measures — tools that provided radio-carbon dating to determine the age of the most recently thawed plants. What the study found was chilling. Many of the plants newly liberated by the thawing ice were at least 44,000 years old. Others were possibly as old as 120,000 years.

This new evidence shows that the heat wave the Arctic is now experiencing, a heat wave that has driven sea ice deeper and deeper into the high Arctic, a heat wave that is melting, on average, about 500 gigatons of ice from Greenland each year (and about 25 gigatons of ice from Baffin), a heat wave that is turning millions of square miles of tundra into a melting, carbon-rich soup is hotter than even the hottest period during the last 11,000 years. And it shows that the Arctic probably hasn’t experienced this much melting since the last inter-glacial period — the Eemian.

The more recent time marking a space from the end of the last ice age to the present day is known as the Holocene. It marks the most recent geological epoc. During the early and middle years of the Holocene, solar insolation — or the measured amount of radiation coming from the sun — was as much as 9% stronger. But, according to the recent paper, human greenhouse gas emissions have been enough to completely overwhelm even the peak Holocene heat effect of a 9% stronger Arctic sun experienced centuries and centuries ago:

“The key piece here is just how unprecedented the warming of Arctic Canada is,” Gifford Miller, a researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in a joint statement from the school and the publisher of the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “This study really says the warming we are seeing is outside any kind of known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.”

It’s amazing to think that humans have already set in effect levels of warmth unsurpassed in 44,000 years and, possibly, 120,000 years. This new information, in itself, is unprecedented. But don’t make the mistake of falling into the false and relative comfort of thinking we only need to worry about the climates of 120,000 years ago. We’re already passing that marker now. As mentioned above, we’ve already released enough greenhouse gasses to at least return Earth to climates not seen in 3.6 million years. In this respect, the Baffin Island study adds to research conducted at Lake El’gygytgyn showing that levels of CO2 comparable to those seen today resulted in Arctic temperatures 8 degrees Celsius hotter during the deep past.

Rapidly Changing Arctic to Liberate More Greenhouse Gasses

Sadly, it is Miller’s final statement, the one stating that all the ice on Baffin is bound to melt, no matter what, which bears the most weight in our current day. With coal plants still being constructed at a break-neck pace in India and China, and with human greenhouse gas emissions rising above 45 gigatons of CO2 equivalent each year, we would be lucky if the end level of melt only included the ice on Baffin combined with a large section of the ice over Greenland. Instead, we are rapidly forging along toward a CO2 level of 550 to 600 ppm which will almost certainly ensure a dangerous and rapid melting of all the remaining ice on Earth.

In addition, billions of tons of carbon in the form of methane and CO2 lay locked within the millions of square miles of thawing permafrost. Some of this methane and CO2 is already out-gassing, adding to the already dangerously high levels of human greenhouse gasses.

Over the past month, the Arctic saw major methane spikes in which atmospheric concentrations of this potent greenhouse gas reached nearly 2500 parts per billion, more than 650 parts per billion above the global average. And should the Arctic continue to warm we are more likely to see even larger spikes of both methane and CO2 further amplifying already unprecedented Arctic warmth.

Most likely, we are headed to at least the temperatures last seen during the Pliocene, in which global averages ranged 2-3 degrees Celsius hotter than the present and during which oceans were 25-75 feet higher. Unfortunately, these are the long-term consequences we have probably already locked in. But without rapid reductions in carbon emissions to near zero over the coming decades, we can expect far, far worse outcomes.


Unprecedented Recent Summer Warmth in Arctic Canada

Arctic Temperatures at 44,000 year High


The Eemian Interglacial

Latest Methane Data Provided by USGS and Methane Tracker

Accelerated Contributions of Canada’s Baffin and Byot Island Glaciers to Sea Level Rise Over The Past Half Century

Leave a comment


  1. jyyh

     /  November 6, 2013

    On first look I wondered why there’s no mention of southern Greenland which is about at the same parallel, but it was there. That’s something like +1,5 meters to the ocean.


  2. Added new information on Baffin Island melt to clarify current rates of loss. Greenland is shown to be losing 500 gigatons per annum while Baffin and Byot are losing about 25 gigatons each year by end of the late 2000s — probably closer to 30 gigatons per year now.

    Sea levels 3.6 million years ago, when CO2 levels were only slightly higher than today’s, were in the range of 75 feet higher. Most rapid rate of sea level increase at the end of the last ice age was 10 feet per century.


  3. james cole

     /  November 6, 2013

    This news is what I expected to hear. Reading about this summer’s heat wave over arctic land areas was pretty staggering. The temperatures and arctic and tundra fires are telling us that the tipping point is already past, what we see now is the new climate taking hold. We often hear that this or that feedback is possibly beginning to appear, but nobody ever says that it is not just the one feedback, it is many of them coming on line at once. You can sit down and count them out, ice replaced with sea water, snow replaced with dark brown earth, methane from arctic lakes, methane and CO2 from tundra soils, methane hydrates coming to the surface of the sea from melting deposits. And on and on. Just open your mind to a less narrow point of view. Even if each feed back is now very small, add them all up and they equal a big event. But I never tire of the newest and latest denier outburst. They always have another lie up their sleeves. They pull them out like a card cheat. I only hope posterity notes the names and organizations the deniers work for. Who spewed known lies in order to prevent any action being taken. Who was so greedy they would destroy posterity for a quick buck and some publicity. Like Mr. Rush Limbaugh, a liar and a blowhard. He loves his own voice, he will tell any lie as long as he is paid to spew on air.
    The American conservative has grown into some sort of insane and greedy hack, who are determined to take us all down on the alter of their new “smart conservative” ideology. Make no mistake, nothing is done about climate change, because of the well funded liars who populate media and congress. Congressmen are paid vast sums of money by fossil fuel companies to lie and to vote against reality. Why does America seem to be home base for so many of these nut jobs?


    • Those afflicted by greed recognize no boundary, no limit, and no rationale. Their construction of ideologies is only to support a regressive power base and are often violent, destructive, and dictatorial. Unfortunately, this has always been a part of the human condition.

      That said, I think that some of the people you mention are being pushed further and further toward the fringes. The defeat of Cuccinelli, for one, was inspiring.


  4. Nice job as usual .
    Some more Items to add :

    Vortex factor in E. Antarctica glacier melt


    • Study to focus on Arctic after Greenland Sea found to have warmed 10 times faster than global ocean
      “Scientists from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) analysed temperature data from the Greenland Sea between 1950 and 2010.

      Their results show that during the past 30 years water temperatures between two kilometres deep and the ocean floor have risen by 0.3 degrees Celsius.

      Dr Raquel Somavilla Cabrillo, AWI scientist and lead author of the study, says researchers are surprised by the results.

      “For a long time it was considered that the deep Arctic region was in a stationary state …[but] much more than we thought is changing,” she said.


      • Global warming finally reaches the last Arctic region

        “Lakes of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, in northeast Canada, are showing evidence of abrupt change in one of the last Arctic regions of the world to have experienced global warming, according to Canadian research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal.

        The research team consisting of Drs Kathleen Rühland, John Smol, and Neal Michelutti from Queen’s University Ontario, Dr Andrew Paterson of Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, and Bill Keller from the Laurentian University Ontario, retrieved sediment cores from lakes around the western shoreline of Hudson Bay and looked for changes in the microscopic algae that settle at the lake bottom after death.


      • Rising temps in the deep ocean is a bad, bad impact. We don’t want a lot of heat near the ocean floor. It’s a primary characteristic of a Canfield Ocean state.


    • Interesting. Seems to also be temporarily enhancing sea ice formation in this region. Will do more research on this.

      Have you taken a crack at the IPCC report? Lots of things to consider. By in large, I think it’s still a bit too conservative, but lots of advances are ongoing. Part of the issue is identifying scientific mechanisms that match observations. So the scientists seem to be scrambling.


      • ” So the scientists seem to be scrambling. ”
        It’s the first extinction event they’ve gotten to see in real time.

        The Australians added to their chain of records :
        Australian 12-month mean temperature record broken for third month running

        October 2013 mean temperatures well above average

        October mean temperatures were unusually warm, with a national anomaly 1.43 °C above the 1961–1990 average. This means that Australia has seen 15 consecutive months of warmer-than-average temperatures, with numerous records broken as a result.

        This continuation of unusually high spring temperatures has been sufficient to break the national record for the warmest 12-month period again, the third consecutive month in which a new record has been set.


      • Multiple lines of evidence about the Arctic lately from multiple locations. :
        Thawing permafrost: The speed of coastal erosion in Eastern Siberia has nearly doubled


  5. Rick Thoman is climate science and services manager for the weather service in Alaska.

    He says the average temperature last month in Anchorage was 43 degrees. That’s the warmest since records there began in 1916. The normal average October temperature is 34.8 degrees.

    Read more here:


  1. Arctic Heat Wave Sets off Hottest Ever Winter-Time Temperatures, Major Melt, Disasters for Coastal and Interior Alaska | robertscribbler
  2. Global Warming & Alaska’s Winter Heatwave | Garry Rogers Conservation and Science Fiction: #EcoSciFi
  3. Arctic Heat Wave Sets Off Hottest Ever Winter-Time Temperatures, Major Melt, Disasters for Coastal and Interior Alaska
  4. robertscribbler

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