Spring Is Coming Sooner To Arctic Because Of Climate Change

Posted: Feb 24 2017, 3:56am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

Spring is Coming Sooner to Arctic Because of Climate Change
he annual timing of spring events is advancing rapidly for some plant species in Greenland. Credit: Eric Post/UC Davis

New 12-year study by UC Davis scientists reveal change in nature's clock.

Nature's clock is running fast in the Arctic, thanks to climate change. Due to diminishing sea ice cover, spring is coming sooner to some plant species in the low Arctic of Greenland, while other species are delaying their emergence amid warming winters, says a study.

The timing of seasonal events, such as first spring growth, flower bud formation and blooming make up a plant's phenology -- the window of time it has to grow, produce offspring, and express its life history. It can be called "nature's clock."

While how early a plant emerges from its winter slumber depends on the species, the study, published in the journal Biology Letters, demonstrates that the Arctic landscape is changing rapidly.

Such changes carry implications for the ecological structure of the region for years to come.

"The Arctic is really dynamic, and it's changing in a direction that won't be recognizable as the same Arctic to those of us who have been working there for decades," said lead author Eric Post, a polar ecologist at the University of California - Davis in the US.

"The picture is definitely being reorganized," Post said.

The study covered 12 years of observations at a West Greenland field site, about 240 km inland from the Davis Strait.

The site is near Russell Glacier, a dynamic front protruding from the massive inland ice sheet that covers most of the island.

Each year from early May to late June, researchers looked daily for the first signs of growth in plots enclosing individual plant species.

They found that warming winters and springs associated with declining arctic sea ice cover created a mixture of speed demons, slowpokes and those in between.

One racehorse of a sedge species now springs out of the proverbial gate a full 26 days earlier than it did a decade ago.

This was the greatest increase in the timing of emergence the researchers had seen on record in the Arctic.

"When we started studying this, I never would have imagined we'd be talking about a 26-day per decade rate of advance," Post said.

"That's almost an entire growing season. That's an eye-opening rate of change," Post said.

Paper Details:

Highly individualistic rates of plant phenological advance associated with arctic sea ice dynamics

Authors: Eric Post, Jeffrey Kerby, Christian Pedersen, Heidi Steltzer

We analyzed 12 years of species-specific emergence dates of plants at a Low-Arctic site near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland to investigate associations with sea ice dynamics, a potential contributor to local temperature variation in near-coastal tundra. Species displayed highly variable rates of phenological advance, from a maximum of −2.55 ± 0.17 and −2.93 ± 0.51 d yr−1 among a graminoid and forb, respectively, to a minimum of −0.55 ± 0.19 d yr−1 or no advance at all in the two deciduous shrub species.

Monthly Arctic-wide sea ice extent was a significant predictor of emergence timing in 10 of 14 species. Despite variation in rates of advance among species, these rates were generally greatest in the earliest emerging species, for which monthly sea ice extent was also the primary predictor of emergence. Variation among species in rates of phenological advance reshuffled the phenological community, with deciduous shrubs leafing out progressively later relative to forbs and graminoids.

Because early species advanced more rapidly than late species, and because rates of advance were greatest in species for which emergence phenology was associated with sea ice dynamics, accelerating sea ice decline may contribute to further divergence between early- and late-emerging species in this community.


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