August 28, 2013
Greenland May Get Greener Thanks To Climate Change
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
While climate change may affect temperate zones around the Earth by a degree or two, temperatures in the Arctic are expected to increase by much more than the global average, according to a likely scenario predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
This reality means that Greenland could eventually become a much more hospitable place for some species of Arctic trees, and a new analysis by a team of European researchers shows that more than 22 of 44 relevant species of North American and European trees and bushes could flourish in Greenland by the end of this century.
“In other words, Greenland has the potential to become a lot greener,” said study co-author Jens-Christian Svenning, a biologist from Aarhus University in Demark.
“Forests like the coastal coniferous forests in today’s Alaska and western Canada will be able to thrive in fairly large parts of Greenland, with trees such as Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine,” Svenning said. “This will provide new opportunities for the population of Greenland. For example, we see that people use wood wherever there is forest.”
“This could also create new opportunities for activities such as hunting and the commercial exploitation of berries,” Svenning continued. “Forest and scrub will also reduce erosion and affect water run-off.”
A report of their analysis, which was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, noted that actual experiments involving various species of trees have already shown that the Siberian larch, white spruce, lodgepole pine and Eastern balsam poplar can already grow in Greenland today.
By the end of the century, more than 150,000 square miles will be available for Arctic trees due to Greenland's receding ice sheet. That’s an area almost the size of Sweden.
Because of the long reproduction cycle of trees and Greenland’s remoteness, it will likely take more than 2,000 years for the newly available land to be fully colonized by trees, the researchers said. Some species currently on the island arrived quickly after the last glacial maximum, while seeds of other species reached Greenland via winds or birds.
Svenning says humans could also play a crucial role in bringing new tree species to Greenland’s sparse forests.
“People often plant utility and ornamental plants where they can grow,” he said. “I believe it lies in our human nature. Such plantings could have a huge impact on the Greenlandic countryside of the future as a source of dissemination. This certainly has positive aspects.”
“But it would also be wise to be cautious, and thereby avoid some of the problems we’ve seen at our latitudes with invasive species such as giant hogweed and rugosa rose,” he added. “The Greenlandic countryside will be far more susceptible to introduced species in the future than it is today. So if importing and planting species takes place without any control, this could lead to nature developing in a very chaotic way, reminiscent of the Klondike.”
Svenning also suggested that the new species’ capacity to sequester carbon might be limited and not have much of an impact with respect to mitigating climate change or its effects.