The Arctic has low-lying shrubs, but with the area warming up due to the climate change, the plants seem to have grown taller than usual. A study found that the plant species grew in height and some other taller plants appeared in the area.
Scientists don’t know yet how this change will affect ecosystems, but they will closely watch them from now on. In the last three decades, the ecosystem has seen rapid changes.
According to the study, tall plants trap more snow, insulating the soil and making it more difficult to freeze in the winter. This means that the soil releases more carbon. One of the researchers, Anne Bjorkman (the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), Germany), noted:
“We found that the increase in height didn’t happen in just a few sites, it was nearly everywhere across the tundra. If taller plants continue to increase at the current rate, the plant community height could increase by 20 to 60 percent by the end of the century.”
The team of researchers analyzed the tundra in 117 sites in the Arctic, gathering over 60,000 data readings. The report also included data from the Colorado Rockies and the European Alps.
After measuring the height, leaf area, nitrogen content, evergreeness and woodiness of various plants, the researchers reached a conclusion. Height was the only significant change in the plants over the last 30 years. Moisture and temperature appeared to impact the growth in height.
Native plants in the Arctic have grown higher, but plants from Iceland, Sweden, and lowland Europe reached the areas – like vernal sweet grass.
Another issue with higher plants is that they’re above the snow and turn the Arctic into a darker area, trapping more heat from the Sun. Bjorkman concluded that:
“Although there are still many uncertainties, taller tundra plants could fuel climate change, both in the Arctic and for the planet as a whole.”
Another researcher part of the team, Isla Myers-Smith (geoscientist, University of Edinburgh, UK), added:
“Quantifying the link between environment and plant traits is critical to understanding the consequences of climate change, but such research has rarely extended into the Northern hemisphere, home to the planet’s coldest tundra ecosystems.”
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.