Arctic and Antarctic research teams pulled back to warmer climates when the International Polar Year wrapped last March. But the call has gone out for a return to the poles for a more focused investigation into the effects of global warming. Leading the charge back to the Canadian Arctic is David Hik, a University of Alberta biology professor and a lead researcher with IPY.
"IPY gave us a great snapshot of the state of the planet's polar regions," said Hik. "But in the Arctic we made many observations that need a more thorough look, especially in the very early spring and the dead of winter."
Hik says university calendars dictate when most northern research can be done. The only time professors and graduate students have for distant fieldwork is spring and summer
"We have to be there as the snow begins to melt and we have to be there in the dark of winter to witness and document the effects of reduced snow cover," said Hik.
Hik says having researcher's boots on the ground throughout the year in the Arctic could focus intense research into areas touched upon during IPY. Those observations of the effects of a shorter winter and reduced snow cover on Arctic ecosystems include:
- Encroachment by the southern tree line and shrubs on Arctic tundra used by caribou.
- Arctic plants that are growing earlier in the spring and are past their energy yielding prime before calving caribou cows and other animals can use them.
- Reduced snow cover and its insulating qualities, which impacts hibernating species.
To follow through with observations made during IPY, Hik is helping organize a follow up conference of Arctic and Antarctic research teams for next June in Norway. Hik is co-author of a paper summarizing recent IPY findings and the call for more focused research. It will be published in Science on Sept. 11.
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