Two ancient ice caps in Canada have completely melted — two years earlier than scientists predicted. NASA satellite imagery captured the disappearance of the St. Patrick Bay ice caps, which date back roughly 5,000 years to the Little Ice Age, the National Snow and Ice Data Center said in a statement.
The ice caps were located on the Hazen Plateau of northeastern Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada, the country's northernmost territory.
Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), said he first visited the ice caps in 1982 to conduct research as part of his graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts. Upon that first visit, "they seemed like such a permanent fixture of the landscape," he said in the statement.
"To watch them die in less than 40 years just blows me away," Serreze added.
The St. Patrick Bay ice caps made up half of the ice caps on the Hazen Plateau. Although the remaining caps are at a higher elevation and "faring better," scientists say their "demise is imminent as well."
In 2017, Serreze published research about the ice caps that warned of their ultimate disappearance. He had predicted that they would last until 2022 — an estimate that was supported by information gathered by NASA's Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER).
Images included in the 2017 research show that there was a significant decrease in the size of the ice caps from 2001 to 2014. In 2015, the larger ice cap of the two covered 7% of the area it did in 1959, and the smaller one covered just 6% of its 1959 size. By 2016, both caps had been reduced to 5% of their original size.
"We've long known that as climate change takes hold, the effects would be especially pronounced in the Arctic," Serreze said. "But the death of those two little caps that I once knew so well has made climate change very personal. All that's left are some photographs and a lot of memories."
While the caps likely would have disappeared on their own eventually, the NSIDC said that fossil fuel burning has contributed to their decline by warming the Arctic in recent decades.