Arctic Going Green from Warming
Hoberman Collection/UIG via Getty Images
An Arctic Fox looks over its shoulder in the tundra.
Sept. 17, 2012
French photographer Samuel Blanc has been leading tours to Svalbard, Norway's archipelago in the Arctic, since 2007. This year the reduced sea ice extent allowed his expedition aboard the 12-passenger Polaris to circumnavigate the northern islands in early July rather than mid-August. Climate change is having a direct impact on the unique ecosystem isolated on these islands more than 400 miles north of Europe. In the following photos, Blanc gives us a tour of life on the archipelago's largest island, Spitsbergen. You can see more of his work at www.sblanc.com.
In west Spitsbergen, Little Auks, such as those pictured here, and other birds aren't safe on the cliffs. Hungry polar bears have learned to climb the steep gradients in search of food.
Polar Bears and Bleeding Glaciers
The dissolved iron seen in this glacier may help fight climate change. As the iron washes into the northern seas, it can help fertilize phytoplankton blooms that draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
As global warming melts permafrost in the arctic, more carbon is released into the atmosphere. Meanwhile areas of tundra are also seeing a rise in fires.
The vast stretch of open water due to thinning of the Arctic sea ice is forcing walruses to often crowd together on beaches.
This bearded seal has found a safe spot away from polar bears and sharks. Many seals however also snooze in the water, where they are at risk of becoming of meal for the Greenland shark, the world's slowest shark.
Only three percent of the total population of arctic fox are called "Blue fox" and unlike the rest of the population, these blue critters don't turn white in the winter.
These foxes are showing their summer colors.
Large swaths of the Arctic tundra will be warm enough to support lush vegetation and trees by 2050, suggests a new study.
Higher temperatures will lessen snow cover, according to the study, which is detailed in the March 31 issue of the journal Nature Climate Change. That, in turn, will decrease the sunlight reflected back into the atmosphere and increase warming. About half the areas will see vegetation change, and areas currently populated by shrubs may find woody trees taking their place.
"Substitute the snowy surface with the darker surface of a coniferous tree, and the darker surface stores more heat," said study co-author Pieter Beck, a vegetative ecologist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. "It's going to exacerbate warming."
The Arctic climate affects the world: Changes in sea ice affect ocean circulation, which, in turn, affects atmospheric circulation that then impacts the globe, said Bruce Forbes, a geographer at the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland in Finland, who was not involved in the study. (Images of Melt: Earth's Vanishing Ice)
Past research suggested that warming has already brought later winters and earlier springs to the Arctic. And fossil forests reveal the Arctic was once green as well.
To find out exactly how much greening Arctic warming would bring, the team used a model that projected how temperature changes would affect snow cover, vegetation, and the increased evaporation and transpiration from plants in the Arctic.
The team found that at least half of the tundra would see changes in the plant types it supported by 2050. In addition, they found more than a 50 percent increase in how much woody greenery — such as coniferous trees — would populate the Arctic. The tree line would also shift north, with coniferous forests sprouting where shrubs once grew.
Most of the greening was driven by the loss of reflectivity, or albedo, from snow cover. With less snow to reflect heat back into the atmosphere and more dark trees, the Earth gets warmer, "just like a dark car gets hotter in a warm parking lot than a light car does," Beck told LiveScience.
That warmth supports more tree and shrub growth, creating a positive feedback cycle to the warming, Beck said.
The findings match forecasts for Arctic greening predicted by various other methods, and they foreshadow effects that will strike closer to home later, Forbes said.
"What's happening now in the Arctic is a faster version of what will be happening at lower latitudes," Forbes told LiveScience.
That could worsen extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy in the future.
"The snowstorms in Washington, D.C., and New York, and the flooding and the freezing on the River Thames — the extreme weather will continue to be extreme but it won't be so uncommon," Forbes said.
More from LiveScience:
The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted
Image Gallery: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth
10 Things You Need to Know about Arctic Sea Ice
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