Russian tundra getting greener

Russian Arctic taiga and tundra

New research has uncovered a significant clue in solving one of the lingering mysteries in climate change: what is causing the significant increase in Arctic tundra productivity detected by satellites since the early 1980s?

Groundbreaking research, led by Bruce Forbes, professor at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, has been able to pinpoint what has long been suspected but never quantified.

By studying the annual growth rings of a common and widespread willow species, an international team of researchers has determined that deciduous, or leafy, tundra shrubs closely track Russian Arctic warming and ’greening’. A regional increase in shrub cover has important implications for future climate due to feedbacks between the ground surface and earth’s atmosphere.

The researchers have been studying the areas on the tundra in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the northern part of the Barents Region.

- In the earliest stages of this research I had information from Nenets reindeer herders, who are indigenous to the area, that shrubs seemed to have increased in height during their lifetime, explains lead author Bruce Forbes, who did his field research in Russia’s Nenets Autonomous Okrug, about 20 km inland from the coast of the Barents Sea.

According to meteorological observation, the temperature in the Arctic is rising two times faster than the world’s average temperature, reports Bellona web with reference to Murmansk Hydro-Meteorological Centre. 2007 was the warmest year in the region since 1961. According to Yelena Siekkinen of the Murmansk Hydro-Meteorological Centre, observations of the temperature in the region show a 0.7 degree Celsius rise every decade since 1976.

In other words, the temperature in Russia’s Arctic region has risen more than 2 degrees Celsius over the last 30 years.

In addition, the level of Arctic seas have rised by 10 to 20 centimetres in the last 30 years, and permafrost cover  – which holds in CO2, the principle greenhouse gas – has shrunk by 10 percent in the same timeframe. Ocean ice has also reduced over the last three decades by 15 to 20 percent. From 1956 to 1990, the level of surface seasonal ice melt has gone up by an average of 20 centimetres, Bellona web reports.