Learn how plants respond to higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations

How does rising atmospheric CO2 affect marine organisms?

Click to locate material archived on our website by topic

Glacial Changes on a Russian Arctic Island
Zeeberg, J. and Forman, S.L. 2001. Changes in glacier extent on north Novaya Zemlya in the twentieth century. Holocene 11: 161-175.

What was done
The authors analyze 20th century changes in glacier terminus positions on north Novaya Zemlya, a Russian island located between the Barents and Kara Seas in the Arctic Ocean. They also provide a quantitative assessment of the effects of temperature and precipitation on glacial mass balance.

What was learned
A significant and accelerated post-Little Ice Age glacial retreat was observed in the first and second decades of the 20th century; but by 1952, the region's glaciers had experienced between 75 to 100% of their net 20th century retreat. During the next 50 years, the recession of over half of the glaciers stopped, and many tidewater glaciers actually began to advance. These glacial stabilizations and advances were attributed by the authors to observed increases in precipitation and/or decreases in temperature. In the four decades since 1961, for example, weather stations at Novaya Zemlya show summer temperatures to have been 0.3 to 0.5C colder than those of the prior 40 years, while winter temperatures have been between 2.3 to 2.8C colder than they were over the prior 40-year period. Such observations, the authors say, are "counter to warming of the Eurasian Arctic predicted for the twenty-first century by climate models, particularly for the winter season."

What it means
Computer model simulations of global climate change have long indicated that the world's polar regions should show the first and severest signs of CO2-induced global warming. So what do the data from Novaya Zemlya show? Over the period of most significant greenhouse gas buildup of the past century, i.e., the last 50 years, temperatures in this Arctic region have declined, and quite dramatically. As a result, many of the island's glaciers have stabilized, and some have even begun to advance. Hence, we once again have a situation where state-of-the-art climate model predictions fail to conform to reality. In fact, the predictions appear to be totally at variance with what is actually happening.