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Keywords:

  • Arctic;
  • Baffin Island;
  • glaciers;
  • paleoclimate

[1] At latitude 67°N, Penny Ice Cap on Baffin Island is the southernmost large ice cap in the Canadian Arctic, yet its past and recent evolution is poorly documented. Here we present a synthesis of climatological observations, mass balance measurements and proxy climate data from cores drilled on the ice cap over the past six decades (1953 to 2011). We find that starting in the 1980s, Penny Ice Cap entered a phase of enhanced melt rates related to rising summer and winter air temperatures across the eastern Arctic. Presently, 70 to 100% (volume) of the annual accumulation at the ice cap summit is in the form of refrozen meltwater. Recent surface melt rates are found to be comparable to those last experienced more than 3000 years ago. Enhanced surface melt, water percolation and refreezing have led to a downward transfer of latent heat that raised the subsurface firn temperature by 10°C (at 10 m depth) since the mid-1990s. This process may accelerate further mass loss of the ice cap by pre-conditioning the firn for the ensuing melt season. Recent warming in the Baffin region has been larger in winter but more regular in summer, and observations on Penny Ice Cap suggest that it was relatively uniform over the 2000-m altitude range of the ice cap. Our findings are consistent with trends in glacier mass loss in the Canadian High Arctic and regional sea-ice cover reduction, reinforcing the view that the Arctic appears to be reverting back to a thermal state not seen in millennia.