Mar. 29, 2005 February 28, 2005 - Two University of Alberta scientists have contributed to an international study that has found biological change in organisms which might be linked with climate change.
A 16-member team assessed 55 lakes and ponds in Arctic regions of Canada, Norway, Finland and Russia for silicon-based remains of algae and the chitinous remains of small invertebrate crustaceans and insects. The report finds that there has been a significant change in diversity of algal and invertebrate remains since around 1850, as opposed to relative stability in previous centuries. Lengthened summers and reduced lake ice-cover are direct results of climate change, with the result being a longer growing season and new habitats opening up. Intense population changes occurred in the extreme northern study sites, where the greatest warming appears to have taken place. According to the report, there is a low chance of finding untouched Arctic environments where climate change hasn’t been detected.
“We’re no longer talking about greenhouse gases and their impact on climate,” says team member Alexander Wolfe, a professor of paleolimnology in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the U of A. He and his fellow researcher, U of A post-doctoral student Neal Michelutti, are currently working at the University Centre in Svalbard, in Longyearbyen, Norway. “We’re talking about the next level which is biology, especially in this case, the biology of these remote regions where human population is either minimal or nil.”
“The biology is starting to change,” he continues. “Admittedly we’re only looking at tiny microscopic algae and the primary consumers, which are things like water fleas and insect larvae, but your whole ecosystem is built on the lowest tropic levels. The suspicion is that any change at the bottom of the food change is going to be transmitted to all other levels, including ultimately fish and birds and so on. But with these small plants and creatures, we have probably a very sensitive dipstick for environmental change for things that are likely to come.”
Wolfe, long an advocate for increased Arctic research, notes that the Canadian government seems unconcerned with our northernmost areas, and wonders whether economic rather then scientific interests drive investigations into the Arctic.
“By and large we don’t have a very deep commitment, even though Canada has the most Arctic to care about,” he says. “It’s the opposite here in Norway, which is possibly due to the legacy of Norwegian explorers like (Roald) Amundsen. They have pride in the Arctic, and a huge investment in Antarctic research. It’s a different perspective. In Alberta, we have people like David Hik and John England, Arctic researchers (at the U of A) who have been lobbying tirelessly to get the government to recognize that some of these questions are important and you can’t really do it on $20,000 a year. It’s a much brighter future in Norway.”
The study, entitled Climate-driven regime shifts in the biological communities of arctic lakes, has been published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
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