Lives Melt With Arctic Ice

Photo courtesy Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons


There’s been plenty of study of physical processes like sea ice retreat, melting glaciers, and rising temperatures caused by global climate change in the Arctic. What’s understudied is the living North, including humans.

Now a new paper in Science reviews current knowledge on the ecological consequences of climate change in the Arctic and issues a call for action in needed areas of research.

Numerous warming effects include:

  • A lengthening growing season following a rapid spring melt
  • Earlier plant flowering
  • Earlier appearance of insects following a warmer spring
  • Deaths of newborn seal pups following melting of their under-snow birthing chambers
  • Shrub expansion on the tundra as the climate warms. This initiates a positive feedback loop: More shrubs means more warming and warmer soils lead to increased nutrient availability, growing yet more shrubs and cranking up more warming.

The start and end of winter is changing too. When it didn’t snow at Toolik Field Station until Thanksgiving a few years ago the soil got cold and stayed so cold that microbes in the soil were barely active. The spring green-up was slow in coming and likely affected caribou forage.

In 2008, snow fell in September and never quit. The warmer winter soils with active microbes were insulated from the cold and were able to provide nutrients to plants that stimulated growth.

“Humans live in the Arctic with plants and animals and we care about the ecosystem services, such as filtering water, fiber production, food production, and cultural values that the Arctic provides,” Syndonia Bret-Harte tells the University of Alaska. The average Arctic temperature is expected to increase by 6 C. “That’s a mind bogglingly large change to contemplate.”

FYI, you can read some cool research goals of Amy Breen and others in the International Tundra Experiment investigating warming in the permafrost at Ice Stories: Dispatches from Polar Scientists. Lots of polar research recapped here.
 

MORE HARD-HITTING JOURNALISM

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.