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Lake in Siberia offers window to complex Arctic climate

This is an aerial photo of the drilling platform on the artificially thickened lake ice in the center of Lake El´gygytgyn; The ice road in the back connects the platform with the camp on the western lake shore. Credit: Jens Karls, University of Cologne.

Climate in the Arctic region of the planet is more complex than it is in other areas of the world, which has made it difficult for researchers to understand how climate really works there. Now, however, researchers have discovered a tool that gives them a glimpse of what Arctic climate may have been like over the past 2.8 million years.

Martin Melles and colleagues drilled into the ground beneath Lake El'gygytgyn, located in northeastern Russia, and removed a cylinder of sediment, or Earth, called a sediment core. According to the researchers, the layers of Earth contained in their sediment core provide a record of Arctic climate that spans nearly 3 million years.

They explain that Lake El'gygytgyn was formed by a meteorite impact more than 3.5 million years ago, and it is located in a remote corner of Siberia, known as the Chukchi Peninsula. The climate record from their sediment core shows that major glacial episodes began there about 2.6 million years ago, which were interrupted from time to time by unusually warm and wet periods.

Few climate records of the Arctic even exist, according to Melles and his team of researchers. But, their sediment core is already challenging many of the current climate models, which do not yet include the complex processes at play in the Arctic.