Surveying North Greenland Beaches to find evidence of fluctuations
in the North Pole ice cover over time.
(Credit: Svend Funder/University of Copenhagen
4 Aug 11 - Writing in the journal Science, Danish researchers say that an
imminent tipping point in the disappearance of Arctic sea ice is unlikely.
For several thousand years, there was much less sea ice in The Arctic Ocean -
probably less than half of current amounts - and no tipping point was reached.
Sea ice comes and goes without leaving a record, so our knowledge of its
historic variations and extent has been severely limited.
But researchers at the Danish
National Research Foundation for Geogenetics at the Natural History Museum of
Denmark (University of Copenhagen) have developed an ingenious method for
retracing those ancient variations.
By analyzing and carbon-dating ancient pieces of driftwood in Northern
Greenland, the team has found evidence that ice levels were about 50% lower some
5,000 years ago.
The driftwood gives a clear, if indirect, picture of the ice loss dating back
"Driftwood cannot float across the water," said Dr Svend Funder, who led several
expeditions to Peary Land in Northern Greenland. "It has to be ferried across
the ocean on ice, and this voyage takes several years, which means that
driftwood is actually a signal of multi-year sea ice in the ocean."
Named after American Polar explorer
Robert E. Peary, Peary Land is an inhospitable and rarely visited area where
summer blizzards are not uncommon.
Figuring out the driftwood's origins also yielded important information.
"It's so lovely that drift wood from Siberia is mainly larch and from North
America is mainly spruce. So if we see there was more larch or spruce we can see
that the wind system had changed and in some periods there was little spruce and
in other periods there was lots," said Dr Funder.
As well as the driftwood, the scientists mapped beach ridges for 310 miles
(500km) along the coast of Northern Greenland.
Today, perennial ice prevents any sort of beach from forming along the coast.
But the beach ridges lie behind the present shore,
proving that at one time the waves had reached the shore unhindered by the ice.
The researchers concluded that for about 3,000 years, during a period called the
Holocene Climate Optimum, there was more open water and far less ice than today
- probably less than 50% of the minimum Arctic sea ice recorded in 2007.
"I think we can say that with the loss of 50% of the current ice, the tipping
point wasn't reached," said Dr Funder.
See entire article:
"My favorite quote," says Kim, "is that even with a reduction to
less than 50% of the current amount of sea ice 'the ice will not
reach a point of no return.' I don't imagine that statement will
make it into any major newspaper.
"I am a regular on your iceagenow website and I think it all
makes a lot of sense! says Jason Evans. "Keep up the good work!"
Two other team members and
co-authors of the Science article,
Eske Willerslev and Kurt Kjær, are also associated with the Danish
Research Foundation at the University of Copenhagen.
Svend Funder, Hugues Goosse, Hans Jepsen, Eigil Kaas, Kurt H.
Kjær, Niels J. Korsgaard, Nicolaj K. Larsen, Hans Linderson, Astrid Lyså,
Per Möller, Jesper Olsen, Eske Willerslev.
A 10,000-Year Record of
Arctic Ocean Sea-Ice Variability—View from the Beach.
Science, 5 August 2011: Vol. 333
no. 6043 pp. 747-750 DOI: