Arctic predicted to become 50% greener in coming decades

PTI | | Updated on: Mar 12, 2018


Arctic set to get a green makeover! Rising temperatures triggered by global warming will lead to a massive ‘greening’, with up to 50 per cent increase in plant cover, in the Arctic, new research has warned.

Scientists reveal that new models have projected that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 per cent over the next few decades.

The researchers also show that this dramatic greening will accelerate climate warming at a rate greater than previously expected.

“Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem,” said Richard Pearson, lead author on the paper and a research scientist at the American Museum of Natural History’s Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation.

Plant growth in Arctic ecosystems has increased over the past few decades, a trend that coincides with increases in temperatures, which are rising at about twice the global rate.

The research team – which includes scientists from the Museum, AT&T Labs-Research, Woods Hole Research Centre, Colgate University, Cornell University, and the University of York – used climate scenarios for the 2050s to explore how this trend is likely to continue in the future.

The scientists developed models that statistically predict the types of plants that could grow under certain temperatures and precipitation.

Although it comes with some uncertainty, this type of modelling is a robust way to study the Arctic because the harsh climate limits the range of plants that can grow, making this system simpler to model compared to other regions such as the tropics.

The models reveal the potential for massive redistribution of vegetation across the Arctic under future climate, with about half of all vegetation switching to a different class and a massive increase in tree cover.

“These impacts would extend far beyond the Arctic region.

“For example, some species of birds seasonally migrate from lower latitudes and rely on finding particular polar habitats, such as open space for ground-nesting,” Pearson said.

In addition, the researchers investigated the multiple climate change feedbacks that greening would produce. They found that a phenomenon called the albedo effect, based on the reflectivity of Earth’s surface, would have the greatest impact on the Arctic’s climate.

When the Sun hits snow, most of the radiation is reflected back to space. But when it hits an area that’s “dark,” or covered in trees or shrubs, more sunlight is absorbed in the area and temperature increases.

This has a positive feedback to climate warming: the more vegetation there is, the more warming will occur.

The study was published in journal Nature Climate Change.

Published on April 01, 2013
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