Greener Arctic Forecast: Observed distribution (left) and predicted distribution of vegetation under a climate warming scenario for the 2050s (right). Credit: American Museum of Natural HistoryA greener arctic forecast suggests the Arctic will see the effects of climate change at a much faster rate than the more temperate regions in the lower portion of the United States. Rising temperatures will eventually lead to a massive greening of the Arctic by mid-century. Marked increases in plant cover are being forecast by the National Science Foundation in research conducted as part of the International Polar Year.

The white surface of ice and snow effectively reflects much of the sun’s energy back into space. This phenomenon is known as the albedo effect. A green earth surface multiplies the effects of solar radiation on surface warming, since darker colored vegetation absorbs radiant energy, rather than reflecting it.

One paper, Shifts in Arctic vegetation and associated feedbacks under climate change, published in the journal Nature Climate Change describes updated modeling that projects a fifty percent increase in wooded areas covering the Arctic. This shift is seen as a vehicle to warm the climate at a rate greater than previously imagined.

Richard Pearson of the American Museum of Natural History says of his research, “Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the global ecosystem.”

Research models can predict a shift in plant growth based on measured and forecasted warming trends in the Arctic that is seeing temperature increases at twice the overall global rate. Since current harsh conditions in the Arctic limit the growth of plants, warming will cause a redistribution of vegetation in the north. A major portion of this plant redistribution will be trees and the present tree line in the Arctic will shift several hundred miles further north.

Researchers will be monitoring the positive feedback to temperature increases caused by more vegetation. Many animals depend on the open tundra for their livelihoods and combined with increased temperatures, many species will see their habitats diminished.

Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum

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