The Quelccya ice cap in the Andes Mountains of Peru took upwards of 1,600 years to form, and it could have formed as long as 6,000 years ago, but it took just 25 years to melt away. Scientists from Ohio State University reported this month that global warming has caused the world’s largest tropical sheet ice to rapidly recede 40 times faster than ever before. Despite the concern caused by the rapid melting, the receding ice has exposed ancient plants that were buried for thousands of years, giving scientists a hauntingly accurate measure of the ice sheet’s age and movements.

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Using radiocarbon dating, the team of scientists were able to determine the age of the plants revealed by the melting ice. Led by Lonnie G. Thompson of Ohio State University, the fluctuations of the Quelccaya ice cap have been monitored and tested for the last few decades. By extracting ice cylinders from deep within the cap, Thompson and his team have studied weather and climate patterns over the centuries, finding interesting evidence such as the climate’s contribution to food shortages during the French Revolution.

About 20 percent of the Quelccaya ice cap has melted since 1978, when global warming studies and climate research began advancing. Melting at a faster rate than anything else in geological record, the melted ice is revealing plants in some places that are 6,000 years old, suggesting that the ice cap was there 6,000 years ago.

The Quelccaya and other high elevations are more susceptible to the effects of global warming and greenhouse gasses. The immediate effect of the melt will produce more water in the areas below the Andes, but once the cap has melted, water sources for the area may be scarce.

Via NY Times

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