Long-term studies detect effects of disappearing snow and ice

Apr 06, 2012

Ecosystems are changing worldwide as a result of shrinking sea ice, snow, and glaciers, especially in high-latitude regions where water is frozen for at least a month each year—the cryosphere. Scientists have already recorded how some larger animals, such as penguins and polar bears, are responding to loss of their habitat, but research is only now starting to uncover less-obvious effects of the shrinking cryosphere on organisms. An article in the April issue of BioScience describes some impacts that are being identified through studies that track the ecology of affected sites over decades.

The article, by Andrew G. Fountain of Portland State University and five coauthors, is one of six in a special section in the issue on the Long Term Ecological Research Network. The article describes how decreasing snowfall in many areas threatens burrowing animals and makes plant roots more susceptible to injury, because snow acts as an insulator. And because microbes such as diatoms that live under are a principal source of food for krill, disappearing sea ice has led to declines in their abundance—resulting in impacts on seabirds and mammals that feed on krill. Disappearing sea ice also seems, unexpectedly, to be decreasing the sea's uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

On land, snowpack changes can alter an area's suitability for particular plant species, and melting permafrost affects the amount of carbon dioxide that plants and microbes take out of the atmosphere—though in ways that change over time. Shrinking add pollutants and increased quantities of nutrients to freshwater bodies, and melting river ice pushes more detritus downstream. Disappearing ice on land and the resulting sea-level rise will have far-reaching social, economic, and geopolitical impacts, Fountain and his coauthors note. Many of these changes are now becoming evident in the ski industry, in infrastructure and coastal planning, and in tourism. Significant effects on water supplies, and consequently on agriculture, can be predicted.

Fountain and his colleagues argue that place-based, long-term, interdisciplinary research efforts such as those supported by the Long Term Ecological Research Network will be essential if researchers are to gain an adequate understanding of the complex, cascading ecosystem responses to the changing cryosphere. Other articles in the special section on the Long Term Ecological Research Network detail further notable scientific and societal contributions of this network, which had its origins in 1980 and now includes 26 sites. The achievements include contributions to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, to ecological manipulation experiments, to bringing decisionmakers and researchers together, and to mechanistic understanding of long-term ecological changes.

Explore further: Deforestation could intensify climate change in Congo Basin by half

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Under-ice habitat important for Antarctic krill

Mar 08, 2012

The importance of the under-ice habitat for Antarctic krill was probably under-estimated in the past and emphasise the susceptibility of this ecological key species to changes in the sea ice habitat induced ...

Penguins that shun ice still lose big from a warming climate

Apr 11, 2011

Fluctuations in penguin populations in the Antarctic are linked more strongly to the availability of their primary food source than to changes in their habitats, according to a new study published online today in the Proceedings of ...

Recommended for you

Predicting bioavailable cadmium levels in soils

14 hours ago

New Zealand's pastoral landscapes are some of the loveliest in the world, but they also contain a hidden threat. Many of the country's pasture soils have become enriched in cadmium. Grasses take up this toxic heavy metal, ...

Oil drilling possible 'trigger' for deadly Italy quakes

18 hours ago

Italy's Emilia-Romagna region on Tuesday suspended new drilling as it published a report that warned that hydrocarbon exploitation may have acted as a "trigger" in twin earthquakes that killed 26 people in ...

Snow is largely a no-show for Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

18 hours ago

On March 1, 65 mushers and their teams of dogs left Anchorage, Alaska, on a quest to win the Iditarod—a race covering 1,000 miles of mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forest, tundra and coastline. According ...

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

19 hours ago

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Study shows less snowpack will harm ecosystem

20 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new study by CAS Professor of Biology Pamela Templer shows that milder winters can have a negative impact both on trees and on the water quality of nearby aquatic ecosystems, far into the warm growing season.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Vendicar_Decarian
0.1 / 5 (35) Apr 06, 2012
Oh, no... The Biologists are conspiring with the Climatologists and nature in the global effort to establish a one world socialist government upon the people of the world.

I know, because as a member of the reality based community, I am a card carrying member of that conspiracy.
CardacianNeverid
5 / 5 (1) Apr 06, 2012
Some tard will show up and say something like:

The Polar bears will be alright!

More news stories

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.