Rising global temperatures have rapidly unearthed ancient landscapes that spent tens of thousands of years buried under the ice.

A new study on plants collected from 30 ice caps on Canada’s Baffin Island suggests the vegetation only recently became exposed after over 40,000 continuous years of ice cover.

And, this could be the warmest century for the region in 115,000 years.

If warming continues at these rates, researchers warn the icy island could be completely ice-free within a matter of centuries.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, the team used radiocarbon dating to analyze 48 plant samples from across Baffin’s ice caps, including ancient moss and lichens long-preserved in their original growth positions.

The last few decades have brought unusually high summer temperatures to the area.

‘The Arctic is currently warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, so naturally, glaciers and ice caps are going to react faster,’ said Simon Pendleton, lead author and a doctoral researcher in CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).

The researchers collected samples from the site this past August, gathering ancient plants from varying elevations and exposures.

They also sampled quartz at the collection sites to establish age and history of ice-cover.

‘We travel to the retreating ice margins, sample newly exposed plants preserved on these ancient landscapes and carbon date the plants to get a sense of when the ice last advanced over that location,’ Pendleton said.

‘Because dead plants are efficiently removed from the landscape, the radiocarbon age of rooted plants define the last time summers were as warm, on average, as those of the past century.’

The researchers analyzed the samples in the lab and compared the historical data reconstructed from ice cores to determine what’s changed.

The findings suggest the modern temperatures seen in this Arctic region are the hottest to hit for any century in the last 115,000 years.

‘Unlike biology, which has spent the past three billion years developing schemes to avoid being impacted by climate change, glaciers have no strategy for survival,’ said Gifford Miller, senior author of the research and a professor of geological sciences at CU Boulder.

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