In the next 100 years, Alaska will experience a massive loss of its historic tundra, as global warming allows these vast regions of cold, dry, lands to support forests and other vegetation that will dramatically alter native ecosystems, an Oregon State University researcher said today.
Polar regions such as Alaska will be among the first to illustrate the profound impacts of climate change, said Dominique Bachelet, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Bioengineering and expert on the effects of climate change on terrestrial vegetation. She spoke at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.
More precipitation, an overall loss of soil carbon, a probable reduction in forest fires and a likely increase in insect and pathogen attacks on trees are also projected by some of the most sophisticated computer models yet developed, Bachelet said. "The effects of climate change in Alaska will be among the most visible in the world," Bachelet said. "The tundra has no place else to go, and it will largely disappear from the Alaskan landscape, along with the related plant, animal and even human ecosystems that are based upon it."
There are some variables that could affect these projections, Bachelet said, such as major changes in ocean circulation patterns that could have unpredictable effects on regional climate. One such change that has been suggested – a shutdown of a major ocean current and circulation pattern in the North Atlantic ocean that currently is responsible for warming much of Europe – might have other ripple effects that would cause regional climate impacts to vary.
"You’ll always have some uncertainties when you are trying to predict the localized impact of global climate change," Bachelet said. "But it’s pretty certain that our global climate is warming up, and at this time, it looks like one of the major impacts will be on the tundra ecosystem of Alaska."
Dominique Bachelet | EurekAlert!
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