Expedition Basecamp

January 12, 2008
By: Baffin Island Basecamp

Baffin Ice Cap Retreat

Anderson_Orion_Sm.jpgAfter leaving the Inuit village of Pangnirtung, the Global Warming 101team mushed along the edge of the retreating Penny Ice Cap on their way through the Auyuittuq National Park. The Inuktitut name of the park translates as “the land that never melts.” The Expedition Team, however, saw only the truncated ends of the glaciers that once snaked down from the Penny Ice Cap and surrounding peaks. They crossed over naked rock and jumbled moraines left behind after the glaciers’ retreat.

Rebecca Anderson, a researcher from the University of Colorado, told the Global Warming 101 team that much of the Baffin Island plateau was covered by permanent snow and ice during the Little Ice Age (about 1600-1900 AD), but that now there are only a few residual ice caps and these are disappearing rapidly. Anderson and Prof. Gifford Miller at the University of Colorado have been studying the retreat of some of these remnant ice caps on Baffin Island.

The tools Anderson and the other researchers use are aerial photography, sediment cores, stakes, dead moss emerging from beneath the ice caps as they retreat, and cosmogenic dating, which reveals the total time that rocks have been exposed at the surface. The University of Colorado research team flies in helicopters to the edge of the ice caps. They then camp near the edge, spending their days measuring the telltale signs of the ice caps’ retreat.

ablation_stake_Sm.jpgAnderson reports some of the Baffin ice caps have been around even longer than the Little Ice Age, but they are all now retreating rapidly. The Orion Ice Cap on the north end of Baffin Island has lost more than half of its area since 1958. If the small ice caps the researchers are studying continue to melt at their current rate, they will eventually disappear.

These and other Arctic ice caps hold large amounts of water. As they melt they will continue to contribute to world sea-level rise.

The Global Warming 101 Expedition Team will mush along the edge of the Barnes Ice Cap on their way from Clyde River to Iglulik. Daily updates of the team’s progress are available at www.globalwarming101.com .