Secret project from the Cold War reveals a surprise in the depths of the ice in Greenland


Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – The ice sheet covering the northern regions of our planet has expanded and contracted over the past two million years. However, the bitter cold of Greenland and its miles-deep ice was previously thought to be a constant.

However, new evidence indicates that the area was once a warmer and green place compared to what we see today.

And what it took in the past to melt ice, and the emergence of vegetation in the area, may be critical to predicting how the Arctic will respond to climate change today.

This secret Cold War era project revealed a surprise in the depths of the ice in Greenland
Scientists were surprised to find branches and leaves in a soil sample taken from below the Greenland ice sheet in the 1960s.
Credit: Dorothy Peteet, Columbia University

A long-lost sample of Earth showed that during the past million years, and perhaps 400,000 years ago, the place was home to a botanical landscape.

The sample was discovered under thick ice in northwest Greenland in the 1960s.

Scientists expected to find sand and rocks in the dirt, but were surprised instead by branches and leaves.

A postdoctoral fellow, who works as a lecturer in geology at the Gond Institute for the Environment at the University of Vermont, Andrew Christ, said, “It is possible that small ponds and streams have spread in the area, while the tundra vegetation covered the surface of the earth.”

This secret Cold War-era project has revealed a surprise in the depths of the ice in Greenland
The sample contained perfectly preserved plants.
Credit: Andrew Christ / UVM

This discovery is further evidence of new and disturbing knowledge that the Greenland ice sheet melted completely during a recent warm period in Earth’s history, periods not different from those we are currently witnessing, and that this is accelerating with the rise in the global temperature caused by humans.

Over the past million years, the Earth’s climate has permeated relatively short warm periods of about 10 thousand years called “interglacials”. These periods are marked by lower ice at the poles, and the sea level has been higher.

This secret Cold War era project revealed a surprise in the depths of the ice in Greenland
A view of a river in Greenland.
Credit: Joshua Brown / UVM

It is possible that one of those periods, perhaps a million years ago or 400,000 years ago, saw the last time this part of Greenland melted and the tundra grew in the region, according to Christ, who is the lead author of the study published in the journal PNAS. Monday.

Snowworm project

This secret Cold War era project revealed a surprise in the depths of the ice in Greenland
Photo of two engineers in a research and engineering lab at Camp “Century”.
Credit: Army Corps of Engineers

The material analyzed in the study has a unique and interesting story, as it came from Camp “Century”, a military base from the Cold War dug into the ice sheet over the Arctic Circle in the 1960s.

The project was called “Iceworm”, and its real goal was to hide 600 nuclear missiles under the ice near the Soviet Union.

In order to conceal the project, the military presented the camp as a polar science station. The military mission failed, and samples of ice and dirt collected from one place to another were transported in candy cans.

The samples spent a period at the University of “Buffalo” in New York in the 1970s before being transported to another refrigerator in Copenhagen, Denmark in the 1990s. This is where samples remained for decades until they were transferred to a new refrigerator, and were discovered again by chance in 2017.

Using the latest dating techniques, scientists were able to analyze perfectly preserved sediments and fossils of plants.

Learning about what happened the last time Greenland was warmer than now is crucial, as it is believed that the ice sheet could lead to a sea level rise of up to 7 meters, a change in sea levels that could inundate many cities. Major around the world.

“In the geological past, it would take thousands of years to melt the ice sheet. We are warming the climate rapidly, at a rate that exceeds anything observed in the past million years,” Christ said.

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