In less than a century, we could see temperatures on Earth that existed during the Interglacial period, some 125,000 years ago.
Research has revealed that the Arctic could lose its ice-covered regions. According to scientists, Earth’s northern polar regions could become void of Ice, returning to a lush green environment that existed on Earth some 125,000 years ago during the Last Interglacial period.
The Arctic Could Turn Green
If we could travel back to around 125,000 years ago and fly over Earth’s northern pole, we would find woody shrubs covering vast regions.
This was so during the last interglacial period when temperatures were much higher than today. However, this could change in the near future as scientists say that the 125,000-year-old scenario could repeat in the near future due to uncontrollable global warming. Unlike other regions on Earth, the Arctic is warming up much faster in response to rising temperatures.
To find out what the Arctic was like during the last interglacial period, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder analyzed plant DNA recovered from lake sediments in the Arctic (the oldest DNA in lake sediments analyzed in one publication to date).
They found evidence of a shrub native to the ecosystems of northern Canada 400 kilometers further north than its current geographic limit. This allowed scientists to “peer back in time” and see what the region was like when it was void of Ice.
But instead of just looking at the past, the researchers say that they are likely also looking at the future as regions now covered with ice could turn lush and green, just as hundreds of thousands of years ago.
A rare view into a particularly warm period
“We have this really rare view into a particularly warm period in the past that was arguably the most recent time that it was warmer than present in the Arctic. That makes it a useful analog for what we might expect in the future,” explained Sarah Crump, who conducted the work as a Ph.D. student in geological sciences and then a postdoctoral researcher with the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR).
The researchers analyzed a series of DNA samples. They traveled to a remote region of the Arctic on ATVs and snowmobiles to collect examples and specimens and bring them back to a laboratory to study.
One species caught their attention: Betula nana, or the dwarf birch.
Dwarf birch is a keystone species of the lower arctic tundra, where slightly taller shrubs can grow in a cold and inhospitable environment. However, dwarf birch does not survive beyond the southern part of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. Nevertheless, the researchers found DNA from this plant in ancient lake sediment showing that it used to grow much further north.
Past VS Preset
The distribution of the tundra today is very different from what it was over one hundred thousand years ago. By looking at lake sediments and their contents, researchers can better understand the ecosystems of the past and what types of plants grew in regions that are now covered in ice.
“It’s a pretty significant difference,” explained Crump. One must remember that various ecological effects can help dwarf birch grow in distant northern regions. Nonetheless, Crump and her colleague analyzed shrubs that grew in the Arctic and examined the climatic reactions related to them.
The researchers discovered that between 116,000 and 125,000 years ago, plants that lived in a green and lush Arctic had thousands of years to adjust and move in response to warmer temperatures.
Today’s ecosystems don’t have that privilege. Evidence already shows that vegetation cannot cope with rapid temperature growth. With today’s rapid rate of warming, the vegetation is likely not keeping pace, but that doesn’t mean it won’t play an important role in impacting everything from thawing permafrost to melting glaciers and sea-level rise.
Based on current measurements, the researchers explain that Arctic regions could see a drastic increase of 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) by the year 2100, similar to the temperatures on Earth during the last Interglacial period, some 125,000 years ago. Let’s take care of Earth. After all, we can’t escape it, at least not now.
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