The Greening Arctic
The frozen Arctic
Every summer in the Arctic, a dark frozen landscape rapidly transforms into a vibrant tundra ecosystem rich with plants and wildlife. This remarkable yet brief transition from 24-hour darkness to midnight sun creates a tundra teaming with life which has drawn scientists north for decades. The answers to big questions about how, where, and why life survives can be found here at the climate extremes of the planet.
A transforming tundra
Over the last half century, scientists and people living around the Arctic have started to notice a much broader transformation. Tundra landscapes are fundamentally changing, and from space, the Arctic now appears much greener than it used to be! Sea ice breaks up earlier in spring and returns later in fall. Wildlife such as moose and beaver are moving north. Bare ground is becoming vegetated and where plants once grew they’re now growing taller. This may be the biggest biological signal of climate change anywhere on the planet.
Life at extremes
The Arctic, where life is shaped by an extreme climate, holds the key to our understanding of global patterns of diversity and species interactions. However, the scientific findings to date are full of contradictions. For instance, not all satellites seem to agree on which areas are greening. In some places, where satellites suggest big landscape changes, those changes aren’t obvious on the ground – and vice versa. Detailed records of vegetation change collected over decades can miss species lurking just outside of monitoring plots. And it is this hidden biodiversity that could be what will reshape the Arctic landscapes of the future.
Making sense of how rapidly the tundra is changing is critical for understanding global climate change. The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth. These high latitudes are home to a third of the planet’s soil carbon – that is vulnerable to loss as the region warms. And if that frozen carbon is released, it will further warm the planet as a whole. The changing Arctic affects us all.
We are Team Shrub – a group of scientists, photographers and drone pilots. We’re heading to the Yukon Arctic Coast and Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island this summer to study the rapidly changing Arctic as we have for the past decade. We will work alongside local collaborators, and share an inside account of our journey.
Join us along the way!