Monday, June 18, 2007

Earlier Spring in the Arctic

Over ten years, climate change has caused spring to arrive in the Arctic increasingly earlier than normal. A study in Greenland found that Arctic organisms had adjusted their breeding cycles to match the earlier snowmelt caused by warmer temperatures.

In some cases, flowers are emerging from buds and chicks are hatching a full 30 days sooner than they did in the mid-1990s in response to sharply increased temperatures burning off the winter's snow layer.

Birds such as the Sanderling and the Ruddy Turnstone had moved their springtime rituals forward by an average of two weeks by 2005, compared to 1996.


And while not unexpected, the rate of change is surprising, even in light of the fact that Arctic temperatures are increasing at twice the global average.

Similar studies have noted much more modest changes with respect to plants in Europe (an advancement of 2.5 days per decade) and globally (5.1 days per decade).

"We were particularly surprised to see that the trends were so strong when considering that the entire summer is very short in the High Arctic -- with just three to four months from snowmelt to freeze up at our Zackenberg study site in northeast Greenland," said Hoye, a co-author of the study.
The results pose some cause for concern, since the variation in adaptation to the new climate conditions may disrupt existing interdependent ecological links.