Feeds

Arctic shrubs join global warming effort

Like a blanket for the planet

The next step in data security

Global warming could be accelerated by an increase of plant cover in the arctic region, according to research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences.

The arctic region is already warming more quickly than anywhere else on Earth, and higher temperatures have stimulated winter plant growth on the tundra. This additional vegetation could increase the amount of solar energy absorbed in the region (snow reflects much of this energy straight back into space) by as much as 70 per cent, the researchers say.

The study, carried out by US Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and at Colorado State University, looked at how an increase in plant cover in high latitudes, particularly in Alaska, impacts the Earth's albedo - a measure of how much sunlight is reflected from the planet's surface.

"Basically, if tundra is converted to shrubland, more solar energy will be absorbed in the winter than before," says Matthew Sturm, lead author of the study.

He notes that the regional warming, and the subsequent increase in plant cover will quickly form a positive feedback loop. This could accelerate increases in the shrubs' range and size over the four million square kilometer tundra, and cause significant changes in the region.

The researchers studied five sites in subarctic Alaska, each with a different kind of plant cover - ranging from full forest canopy, through to barren tundra. They measured the mid-winter albedo of each site and found that melting began sooner in areas covered in shrubs than on the snowy plains.

Conversely, the shrubby areas had more shade, so the rate of melting was slower overall. The thaw in all five regions finished at approximately the same time, the researchers found.

Sturm concludes that the changes would undoubtedly affect the carbon budget in the region, but added that scientists don't yet understand exactly how. One thing he is sure of is that with an estimated 40 per cent of the world's carbon currently holed up in arctic soils, any change to the arctic's carbon balance would certainly have a knock on effect on the global climate. ®

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.