Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dramatically greener Arctic in the coming decades

Date:
April 9, 2013
Source:
National Science Foundation
Summary:
Rising temperatures will lead to a massive "greening" of the Arctic by mid-century, as a result of marked increases in plant cover, according to new research.

Observed distribution (left) and predicted distribution of vegetation under a climate warming scenario for the 2050s (right). Data used to generate the observed image are from the Circumpolar Arctic Vegetation Map (2003).
Credit: American Museum of Natural History

Rising temperatures will lead to a massive "greening" of the Arctic by mid-century, as a result of marked increases in plant cover, according to research supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of its International Polar Year (IPY) portfolio.

Related Articles


The greening not only will have effects on plant life, the researchers noted, but also on the wildlife that depends on vegetation for cover. The greening could also have a multiplier effect on warming, as dark vegetation absorbs more solar radiation than ice, which reflects sunlight.

In a paper published March 31 in Nature Climate Change, scientists reveal new models projecting that wooded areas in the Arctic could increase by as much as 50 percent over the coming 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 Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

In addition to Pearson, the research team includes other scientists from the museum, as well as from AT&T Labs-Research, Woods Hole Research Center, Colgate and Cornell universities, and the University of York.

The research was funded by two related, collaborative NSF IPY grants, one made to the museum and one to the Woods Hole Research Center.

IPY was a two-year, global campaign of research in the Arctic and Antarctic that fielded scientists from more than 60 nations in the period 2007-2009. The IPY lasted two years to insure a full year of observations at both poles, where extreme cold and darkness preclude research for much of the year. NSF was the lead U.S. government agency for IPY.

Although the IPY fieldwork has been largely accomplished "in addition to the intensive field efforts undertaken during the IPY, projects such as this one work to understand IPY and other data in a longer-term context, broadening the impact of any given data set,"said Hedy Edmonds, Arctic Natural Sciences program director in the Division of Polar Programs of NSF's Geosciences Directorate.

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 used climate scenarios for the 2050s to explore how the greening 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 modeling 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. What might this look like? In Siberia, for instance, trees could grow hundreds of miles north of the present tree line.

These impacts would extend far beyond the Arctic region, according to Pearson.

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

The computer modeling for the project was supported by a separate NSF grant to Cornell by the Division of Computer and Network Systems in NSF's Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering, as part of the directorate's Expeditions in Computing program.

"The Expeditions grant has enabled us to develop sophisticated probabilistic models that can scale up to continent-wide vegetation prediction and provide associated uncertainty estimates. This is a great example of the transformative research happening within the new field of Computational Sustainability," said Carla P. Gomes, principal investigator at Cornell.

In addition to the first-order impacts of changes in vegetation, 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.

"By incorporating observed relationships between plants and albedo, we show that vegetation distribution shifts will result in an overall positive feedback to climate that is likely to cause greater warming than has previously been predicted," said co-author and NSF grantee Scott Goetz, of the Woods Hole Research Center.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Science Foundation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Richard G. Pearson, Steven J. Phillips, Michael M. Loranty, Pieter S. A. Beck, Theodoros Damoulas, Sarah J. Knight, Scott J. Goetz. Shifts in Arctic vegetation and associated feedbacks under climate change. Nature Climate Change, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1858

Cite This Page:

National Science Foundation. "Dramatically greener Arctic in the coming decades." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130409132008.htm>.
National Science Foundation. (2013, April 9). Dramatically greener Arctic in the coming decades. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 27, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130409132008.htm
National Science Foundation. "Dramatically greener Arctic in the coming decades." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130409132008.htm (accessed November 27, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Scientists Find Invisible Space Shield Protecting Earth

Scientists Find Invisible Space Shield Protecting Earth

Newsy (Nov. 27, 2014) — An invisible barrier is keeping dangerous super fast electrons from interfering with our atmosphere, but scientists aren't entirely sure how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Bolivian Recycling Initiative Turns Plastic Waste Into School Furniture

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 26, 2014) — Innovative recycling project in La Paz separates city waste and converts plastic garbage into school furniture made from 'plastiwood'. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Blu-Ray Discs Getting Second Run As Solar Panels

Newsy (Nov. 26, 2014) — Researchers at Northwestern University are repurposing Blu-ray movies for better solar panel technology thanks to the discs' internal structures. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Antarctic Sea Ice Mystery Thickens... Literally

Newsy (Nov. 25, 2014) — Antarctic sea ice isn't only expanding, it's thicker than previously thought, and scientists aren't sure exactly why. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


New Models Predict Drastically Greener Arctic in Coming Decades

Mar. 31, 2013 — New research predicts that rising temperatures will lead to a massive "greening," or increase in plant cover, in the Arctic. In a new paper, scientists reveal new models projecting that ... read more

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins