What we currently think of the Arctic — a desolate white wasteland of snow and ice will soon turn to green, laden with trees and shrubs. The changing land will also speed warming.
A recent study, published Sunday March 31 in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that green areas in the Arctic could grow up to 50 per cent in coming decades.
A warmer world means more environments that can support plants, which will now be able to grow at higher latitudes than they currently can. This changing environment will also impact the rest of the world, because its new colour scheme will absorb more heat from the sun.
More energy coming from the sun will be absorbed by the region because of the Albedo effect. Lighter colours, like sea ice and snow, have a higher albedo, meaning they reflect light back to space and contribute to an overall cooler climate. Darker colours, like trees and shrubland, have a lower albedo, meaning they absorb sunlight and warm the environment.
While the trees will also absorb carbon dioxide from the air, it’s not enough to offset this darkening effect — there will still have a bigger warming impact that previously thought. These changes “will result in an overall positive feedback to climate that is likely to cause greater warming than has previously been predicted,” study researcher Scott Goetz, of the Woods Hole Research centre, said in a statement.
“These impacts would extend far beyond the Arctic region,” study researcher Richard Pearson, of the American Museum of Natural History, said in a statement. “For example, some species of birds seasonally migrate from lower latitudes and rely on finding particular polar habitats, such as open space for ground-nesting.”
Here’s what the area looks like now, on the left, and what it will look like in the 2050s on the right:
Here’s a closer-up view of some of the areas that will be impacted, including Alaska, far-north areas of Canada, and Siberia. Similar to the legend above, greener colour means more trees, and purple and blue mean more shrubs:
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