We previously reported on two studies showing that after the end of the last ice age about 11,000 years ago, the Arctic on both the Russian and Canadian sides warmed rapidly to a level much warmer than today, stayed warm for thousands of years, then began a cooling trend about 6,000 years ago which has left it colder than any time since the last ice age. If you think these were outliers or mistakes, we add to the list a new study looking at Bolshevik Island in the Russian high Arctic which reports the same pattern (h/t NTZ). Based on examination of sediment layers at the bottom of a nearby lake, scientists confirmed that from about 12,000 to 6,000 years ago the region warmed and was eventually covered in shrubs and dwarf trees. Then the cold began coming, and today the region looks as bleak and barren as it did at the end of the ice age.
Nowadays very little greenery grows there, mostly some moss and lichen. Unlike the millennia after the last ice age, in which alder, birch, willow, sedges and grasses grew on Bolshevik Island. Or to be exact, “after the last glaciation” because technically we are still in an ice age precisely because of the unusual presence of polar ice. But in the common parlance, the “ice age” ended when the glaciers retreated from almost everywhere else. And the point is what happened next.
Because warmth is good for life, and even in the Arctic, if a bit of warmth arrives, vegetation follows. And it did. Furthermore the new study finds evidence that “large herbivores were grazing in the catchment area” because vegetation attracts and supports animals that eat vegetation. You almost get the sense that nature likes warmth. You also almost get the sense that the modern Arctic is not the static, unchanging ice-bound frozen land that activists want you to assume. That picture is convenient because if the ice melts back a little more than usual in any given summer, they can call it unprecedented and a harbinger of climate doom. Even though the unusual thing, from a long-term history perspective, is not that the ice melts back in the summer, but that there is so much ice there in the first place. It wasn’t always thus, and the last time it was, we called it an ice age.