Arctic Biome Under Extreme Threat From A Changing Climate
February 14, 2014

Arctic Biome Under Extreme Threat From A Changing Climate

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The Arctic as we know it may not exist as climate change is threatening the polar biome’s unique biodiversity and landscape, according to a new report from a large international team of scientists.

Conducted by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) under the Arctic Council, an international forum of Arctic nations, the new study found that climate change could shrink Arctic ecosystems, as advancing changes move north and butt up against the perimeter of the Arctic Ocean, a phenomenon the researchers called the "Arctic squeeze."

"Climate change is by far the worst threat to Arctic biodiversity,” said study author Hans Meltofte, an expert in Arctic ecology at Aarhus University. “Temperatures are expected to increase more in the Arctic compared to the global average, resulting in severe disruptions to Arctic biodiversity some of which are already visible.”

"An entire bio-climatic zone, the high Arctic, may disappear,” he added. “Polar bears and the other highly adapted organisms cannot move further [sic] north, so they may go extinct. We risk losing several species forever.”

The study team cited several economic reasons why sustaining biodiversity in the Arctic is a major issue. For Arctic people, biodiversity is a crucial part of their lifestyle. Arctic fisheries and vacations also have worldwide importance and represent enormous economic value.

Countless Arctic birds and mammals migrate back and forth to the Arctic from virtually all areas of the globe. These animals will also be at risk from climate change in the Arctic – in addition to the threats they already face from human development and hunting in more temperate ecosystems. Marine and terrestrial ecosystems, such as vast areas of tundra and millennia-old ice shelves, make the Arctic a unique place for biodiversity and these ecosystems are currently under threat, the study team emphasized.

The international team’s report also found that overharvest of natural Arctic resources is no longer a major threat. However, they noted numerous threats to Arctic biodiversity.

The team said they found that many contaminants have “bioaccumulated” in many Arctic predator species to levels that threaten their health and capability to reproduce. The team cited bottom trawling in the Arctic Ocean, non-renewable resource development and other intensive forms of land use as substantial challenges to Arctic biodiversity. Shipping and resource development corridors are rapidly expanding and may dramatically boost the rate of introduction of alien species, the report author said.

A worldwide average increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the internationally agreed upon reasonable limit of warming without dire consequences, is projected to result in vastly more heating in the Arctic with anticipated temperature increases of 5 to 14 degrees F for this century. Such dramatic shifts will likely result in considerable damage to Arctic biodiversity, the researchers said.

They also noted an immense deficit in our familiarity with species richness for many organisms and said monitoring of the Arctic is lagging behind than in other regions around the globe. They warned that shifts in Arctic biodiversity will have significant knock-on effects on the living conditions of peoples in the Arctic.