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Arctic Tundra to Shrink by 51 Percent

Posted by on Monday, June 14, 2010

Canada's booth at the IPY Conference in Oslo. Credit: Mark Terry

OSLO, Norway — By the year 2100, 51 percent of the tundra habitat in the Arctic will be gone after the tree line advances by as much as 500 km, says the Arctic Council in a report of International Polar Year findings released here in Oslo.

The Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for Arctic governments and peoples, announced that unique habitats for flora and fauna, including sea ice, tundra, lakes and peatlands have disappeared while other species have shown a decline in numbers.

The report went on to say that these radical changes in the Arctic environment are having a direct impact on the survival of people living there.

The report details that the vegetation comprising tundra ecosystems (species of grasses, sedges, mosses and lichens) are being replaced by species more typically found in southern locations, like evergreen shrubs.

The Approaching Treeline
The tree line isn’t far behind as warmer temperatures are allowing for its rapid advancement into the Arctic tundra.

The Arctic Biodeoversity Assessment (ABA) project was established by the Arctic Council in 2006 to focus on study during International Polar Year (2007 - 2008).

Nikolay Shiklomanov. Credit: Mark Terry
The report points the finger squarely at climate change as the source of these drastic environmental changes and, as a result, the ABA study will continue until 2013 when it's believed a complete analysis of the impact of climate change on Arctic biodiversity will be made.

"What we’ve found in the Arctic (during International Polar Year) through this study is just the tip of the iceberg," said one IPY conference delegate.

On the other hand, a 15-year study conducted by Dr. Nikolay Shiklomanov, a professor of geography at George Washington University in Washington D.C., found that Alaska’s North Slope did not experience the anticipated landscape thickness increase that warming temperatures traditionally cause in Arctic areas.

"We believe we just haven’t hit the threshold yet that will begin the growth cycle," he told Canadian Geographic. "That’s why we’re continuing the study."

Antarctica Challenge
And here’s an interesting news item regarding my film, The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning. At the conference today, the IPY Federal Program Office informed me that my film has been invited to screen to the heads of state at the European Parliament during their Fall session.

Mark Terry, an adventurer and documentary filmmaker, is Canadian Geographic's special correspondent at the 2010 IPY Conference in Oslo.

And for more CG coverage of the International Polar Year, including videos, photo essays and more, see our Jan/Feb issue online.

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