Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Climate change could doom Alaska’s tundra

04.08.2004


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."



The newest research suggests that 90 percent of Alaska’s tundra that was present in 1920 will be gone by 2100, less than a century from now, under one of the climate models projecting the most extreme warming. A model with more conservative estimates indicates that 77 percent of the tundra will disappear during that time.

Temperatures have already been above the historical norm in Alaska for the past 17 years. But about 100 years from now, the average annual temperature in Alaska may soar up to 13 degrees Fahrenheit higher in the worst case scenario predicted by climate models. Tundra is a cold, comparatively dry ecosystem that now covers much of Alaska, characterized by the permanently frozen deep soil layers called permafrost, few or no trees, grasses and dwarf shrubs, and an extremely short growing season. But it also supports brown bear, wolf, wolverine, caribou, arctic hare, mink, weasel, and lemming, and millions of migrating waterfowl. In summer it can feature thousands of lakes and large marshy areas.

According to Bachelet, despite some of the criticisms aimed at them, climate models appear to work better and achieve higher accuracy over longer rather than shorter periods of time.

"If you ask these models to predict exactly what the global climate will be in the summertime five years from now, that’s much more difficult because of the natural, short-term variations in weather and climate," Bachelet said. "But based on everything we’ve learned, when we predict what’s going to happen during a 20-year period about a century from now, we can be fairly confident. We also test these models by running them backward into the past, and the results are quite accurate."

Bachelet and her colleagues at OSU and the U.S. Forest Service have developed the Dynamic Global Vegetation Model MC1, an improved way of predicting what certain climate scenarios will mean in terms in of vegetation growth, plant and soil processes, carbon storage or emissions, forest fire, and other important ecological effects.

The latest simulations with this model were done with Alaska as a prelude to work with much of the world’s Arctic region, Bachelet said. "Some of this is not that surprising, the winters in Alaska are already getting milder and the summers warmer," Bachelet said. "Were already seeing glacial melting, movement in fish migrations, Inuits who are having to change their fishing and hunting habits because of melting ice."

But any changes so far pale in comparison of what’s to come, and fairly soon, Bachelet said. Among the predictions:

  • Boreal mixed forests could yield to a maritime and temperate conifer forest much like those of southeast Alaska, and cover huge areas of Alaska.
  • The only large area of remaining tundra in Alaska 100 years from now will be on its north coast.
  • Because of increases in precipitation and despite an increase in statewide biomass, forest fires should become less frequent overall and could shift from central Alaska to the northeast.
  • Insects and pathogens, which can adapt more readily to changing environmental conditions, may cause massive epidemics of plant disease and insect attack – in some cases causing large forest die-offs that could then lead to more fires, adding complexity to the picture.
  • The average annual temperatures in much of Alaska could increase by more than 13 degrees above a 1920-2000 average by the last decade of the 21st century, according to the most extreme climate scenario, and 8 degrees under a more conservative scenario.

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!
Further information:
http://www.oregonstate.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>