Feeds

Arctic shrubs join global warming effort

Like a blanket for the planet

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.