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Arctic climate may be more sensitive to warming than thought, says new study
Date:6/29/2010

A new study shows the Arctic climate system may be more sensitive to greenhouse warming than previously thought, and that current levels of Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide may be high enough to bring about significant, irreversible shifts in Arctic ecosystems.

Led by the University of Colorado at Boulder, the international study indicated that while the mean annual temperature on Ellesmere Island in the High Arctic during the Pliocene Epoch 2.6 to 5.3 million years ago was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit, or 19 degrees Celsius, warmer than today, CO2 levels were only slightly higher than present. The vast majority of climate scientists agree Earth is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping atmospheric gases generated primarily by human activities like fossil fuel burning and deforestation.

The team used three independent methods of measuring the Pliocene temperatures on Ellesmere Island in Canada's High Arctic. They included measurements of oxygen isotopes found in the cellulose of fossil trees and mosses that reveal temperatures and precipitation levels tied to ancient water, an analysis of the distribution of lipids in soil bacteria which correlate with temperature, and an inventory of ancient Pliocene plant groups that overlap in range with contemporary vegetation.

"Our findings indicate that CO2 levels of approximately 400 parts per million are sufficient to produce mean annual temperatures in the High Arctic of approximately 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees F)," Ballantyne said. "As temperatures approach 0 degrees Celsius, it becomes exceedingly difficult to maintain permanent sea and glacial ice in the Arctic. Thus current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere of approximately 390 parts per million may be approaching a tipping point for irreversible ice-free conditions in the Arctic."

A paper on the subject is being published in the July issue of the journal Geology'/>"/>

Contact: Ashley Ballantyne
ashley.ballantyne@colorado.edu
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert  

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