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Greening Tundra Shows Arctic Heat

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Posted on Mar 13, 2013
madpai (CC BY 2.0)

By Tim Radford, Climate News Network

(Page 2)

Boreal forest species are adapted to cold. “Some areas of boreal forest will be negatively impacted by warming temperatures, from increased drought stress as well as insect and fire disturbance”, says Scott Goetz of Woods Hole Research Center in the US, another of the co-authors.

“But this work shows that in most high latitude regions we see increased productivity resulting from a reduced range of seasonal temperature variability.”

Driving more warming

Since relative temperatures are dictated by latitude, the researchers used latitude as a measure. They selected reference sites and studied both change, and the rate of change, using three decades of Nasa satellite data, and reports from researchers and nomad observers.

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One of these sites was at 64° N. Now, 30 years on, it has plant cover characteristic of 57° N. It is as if growing conditions had shifted seven degrees north, or very nearly 750 km, according to Terry Chapin, of the University of Fairbanks, Alaska.

By the end of the century, at the present rate of change, temperature seasonality will have diminished substantially, and – once again using latitude as a yardstick – will be the equivalent of a 20 degrees shift, relative to measurements made between 1951 and 1980.

Such warming is all too likely to feed back into even more global warming, as the frozen soils of the north come to life, peat and vegetation begin to decompose, and yet more reservoirs of buried methane and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere.

What it will mean to the peoples and the creatures of the north is hard to guess, because ecosystems will change with seasonal temperature and plant growth.

“Think of the migration of birds to the Arctic in the summer and the hibernation of bears in the winter”, says Dr Goetz. “Any significant aberrations in seasonality are likely to impact life not only in the north, but elsewhere, in ways that we do not know.”


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