APR 24, 2019 7:12 PM PDT

Spring is coming early in the Arctic

A study published recently in Global Change Biology brings bad news from the Arctic: spring is here – early. The research was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council and is a collaboration between researchers from the University of Edinburgh, and universities in Canada, the US, Denmark and Germany.

Better understanding the timing of activity in seasonal vegetation can give scientists a baseline to measure future changes – but it also allows them to see how the region is already being affected by climate change. For example, when certain species grow leaves and flowers is a clue which scientists can use to gauge rising temperatures and snow and sea ice melt.

Dr. Isla Myers-Smith, a co-author of the study from the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, commented: "In the extreme climate of the Arctic tundra, where summers are short, the melting of winter snows as well as warming temperatures are key drivers of the timing of spring. This will help us to understand how Arctic ecosystems are responding as the climate warms."

The team studied plants at different coastal sites around the Arctic tundra, focusing specifically on 14 species at four sites in Alaska, Canada and Greenland. They found that snow melt had a greater influence on the arrival of leaves and flowers than did temperatures.

“Spring temperatures and the day of spring drop in sea ice extent advanced at all sites (average 1°C per decade and 21 days per decade, respectively), but only those sites with advances in snow melt (average 5 days advance per decade) also had advancing phenology. Variation in spring plant phenology was best explained by snow melt date,” write the authors.

Signs of spring are coming earlier in the Arctic. Photo: Newsweek

While spring phenology was quite variable across the team’s sites, they also found that when compared to twenty years ago, leaves and flowers are coming out as much as 20 days sooner now. “Within the same timeframe, spring temperatures warmed by 1 degree Celsius each decade on average, while loss of sea ice occurred around 20 days sooner across the different regions. Snow melt advanced by about 10 days over two decades,” explains Science Daily.

The scientists hope their research sheds light on the complexity of the relationships between temperatures, snow and sea ice melt, and Arctic ecosystems. With the Arctic warming more rapidly than any other region of the planet, it is imperative that we understand as much as possible about the factors at play in the region.

Sources: Science Daily, Global Change Biology

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 15, 2019
Eagle vs. Octopus
The animal food chain is somewhat straightforward, with larger animals often hunting smaller animals in an attempt to ensure their own survival. Unfortunat...
DEC 24, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
DEC 24, 2019
Santa's not the Only One that's Making Haste - the Magnetic North Pole's Wandering Accelerates
According to the latest World Magnetic Model (WMM) released by the  NOAA's National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI), the  Earth&...
DEC 29, 2019
Plants & Animals
DEC 29, 2019
Anthills Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg
At first glance, an anthill looks like a small pile of sand on the Earth with a tiny hole in the top that ants crawl into to evade danger, but they’r...
DEC 31, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
DEC 31, 2019
Growing a Better Lab-Based Meat
Meat consumption has risen around the world in the past few decades, and demand is still increasing....
JAN 04, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 04, 2020
La Niña is associated with higher incidence of life-threatening diarrhea
Findings published recently in the journal Nature Communications suggest that La Niña climate conditions are linked to an increase in the incidence ...
FEB 02, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 02, 2020
These Fish Beach Themselves When it Comes Time to Mate
Most fish probably cringe at the idea of beaching themselves on purpose, especially since they can’t breathe out of water. But this is something that...
Loading Comments...