The shrubs that are already there are transforming into trees in just a few decades
In just a few decades shrubs in the Arctic tundra have turned into trees as a result of the warming Arctic climate, creating patches of forest which, if replicated across the tundra, would significantly accelerate global warming.
Scientists from Finland and Oxford University investigated an area of 100,000 km2, known as the northwestern Eurasian tundra, stretching from western Siberia to Finland. Surveys of the vegetation, using data from satellite imaging, fieldwork, and expert observations from indigenous reindeer herders, showed that in 8-15% of the area willow (Salix) and alder (Alnus) plants have grown into trees over 2 metres in height in the last 30-40 years.
Previous models assessing the potential impact of forestation have suggested that the advance of forest into Arctic tundra could increase Arctic warming by an extra 1-2 degrees Celsius by the late 21st Century.
A report of the research is published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
‘It’s a big surprise that these plants are reacting in this way,’ said Dr Marc Macias-Fauria of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology and the Oxford Martin School, first author of the paper. ‘Previously people had thought that the tundra might be colonised by trees from the boreal forest to the south as the Arctic climate warms, a process that would take centuries. But what we’ve found is that the shrubs that are already there are transforming into trees in just a few decades.’
The change from shrubs to forest is important as it alters the albedo effect — the amount of sunlight reflected by the surface of Earth.
via Science Daily
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