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Williams College

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Iceland and Greenland: Climate Change and The Arctic


Climate change is causing drastic changes in the cryosphere, particularly in the Arctic region where average warming is 1.9 times greater than in the rest of the world due to Arctic amplification. Understanding the response of essential climate variables such as glaciers and ice caps to rapid Arctic warming is essential to predicting future changes in the Arctic region and around the world. Proxy dating methods can help construct a record of warming-induced glacial retreat in areas where long-term monitoring systems are not in place. In Arctic regions, the cushion plant Silene acaulis represents one of the only feasible proxies for tracking recent glacier retreat (within hundreds of years). This study uses independent control data from the Icelandic Meteorological Office’s glacier monitoring stations in the Sólheimajökull valley on the southern coast of Iceland to test the accuracy of previously constructed Silene acaulis growth rate curves and to determine the validity of Silene acaulis as a phytometric proxy for recent glacial retreat in the Arctic region. The diameters of 207 Silene acaulis were measured in the Sólheimajökull glacier forefield and qualitative measures of abiotic and biotic factors such as epiphyte load, patchiness, and shelter were taken. Relationships between measured diameters and substrate age were compared to predicted substrate ages from constructed growth rate curves. High levels of error were found and attributed to the lack of inclusion of abiotic and biotic factors in constructed growth rate curves. Further study on the ecology of Silene acaulis is recommended to increase its accuracy as an Arctic phytometric proxy.


Arts and Humanities | Eastern European Studies | Environmental Studies | Geographic Information Sciences | Nature and Society Relations | Physical and Environmental Geography | Scandinavian Studies


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