Arctic vegetation spread could boost climate change

Apr 10, 2013 by Bill Steele
Arctic vegetation spread could boost climate change
Distributions of vegetation in Siberia, Alaska and Western Canada today, left, and as predicted for 2050 by computer models. Replacing grasses with tree cover and woody shrubs (green, blue and purple) will decrease the reflection of sunlight and feed back to increase global warming.

(Phys.org) —Changes in Arctic vegetation due to climate change have probably been underestimated, according to a new computer analysis which shows that tree and shrub cover in the region will increase more than previously expected, accelerating climate change and possible adverse effects on wildlife.

"Such widespread redistribution of Arctic vegetation would have impacts that reverberate through the ," said Richard Pearson, a research scientist at the 's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation and lead author of the study.

Pearson, working with scientists at Woods Hole Research Center in Malmouth, Mass., called in with access to the high-performance computing facilities at Cornell's Institute for Computational Sustainability (ICS) and AT&T Labs to conduct the analysis. The results appeared March 31 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The overall prediction is that woody cover will increase by as much as 52 percent by the 2050s. With trees and shrubs hiding the snow, less heat will be reflected. Tree growth will expand hundreds of kilometers north of the present tree line in Siberia, while woody shrubs will overrun grasses in Alaska. The vegetation that is displaced will have no room to move farther north, so some habitats may disappear, along with the birds and animals that depend on them. The vegetation also will transpire more water vapor, which acts as a greenhouse gas.

Previous predictions have been based on computer simulations of the biological processes of plant growth in response to changes in temperature. The new approach analyzes what has actually been happening up to now and projects that into the future with unprecedented detail. The computer divided maps into thousands of cells 4.5 kilometers square, separately computing the outcome for each one.

The researchers fed in detailed data on how vegetation has changed from 1950 to 2010 in response to global warming. Juggling up to half a million variables, the computer learned how the distribution of vegetation correlates with climate, then used projections of future climate to compute trends for the future. Predictions were made for several different types of grasses, shrubs and trees; each plant group has a climatic "niche" – a set of conditions that favors its growth.

"Vegetation distribution shifts will result in an overall positive feedback to climate that is likely to cause greater warming than has previously been predicted," the researchers said in their paper. Thick tree cover also may alter the ecosystem by depriving low-lying plants of sunlight, they added. Further along, the researchers said, there may be impacts on human society.

ICS operates a state-of-the-art parallel computer cluster of 600 processors, dedicated to research on issues of sustainability such as land use, climate modeling and the interaction of species with the environment, all problems involving complex computing with many variables. Running many calculations in parallel can vastly reduce the time needed to analyze these problems, said Carla Gomes, professor of computing and information science and director of ICS.

Different computer models were used at AT&T and Cornell, with good agreement on the results. The models were more than 80 percent correct, said Cornell graduate student Theo Damoulas, who designed the Cornell model.

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Birger
4.2 / 5 (15) Apr 10, 2013
...and thawing out the permafrost will release a very large amount of methane.
MandoZink
4.4 / 5 (14) Apr 10, 2013
Due to the caustic responses they inspire, I cringe a bit when I see attention being drawn to another potential addition to the ongoing climate shift. The computer models always indicate a warming to some extent, more or less. Whether or not the magnitude of climate alteration implied is correct in each study, there are a couple of significant conclusions acquired from the large quantity of indicators discovered.

1. Each analysis may not accurately predict the amount of temperature increase that could occur, but the phenomena being studied always show warming, not cooling.

2. The converging multitude of increasing indicators, whether individually accurate or not, comprise a consilience of evidence as to what is occurring.

I am now going outside to work on my earlier-than-ever backyard vegetable garden.
Maggnus
3.9 / 5 (15) Apr 10, 2013
...and thawing out the permafrost will release a very large amount of methane.


In addition to releasing biomass CO2 that has been frozen in place for thousands of years.....
Maggnus
3.8 / 5 (14) Apr 10, 2013
Due to the caustic responses they inspire, I cringe a bit when I see attention being drawn to another potential addition to the ongoing climate shift.


Bah don't let fear of a handful of hard-core deniers scare you off :). Welcome to the forum :)
aennen
2.8 / 5 (9) Apr 10, 2013
We always see the possible negative effects but there are always two sides to a coin, what are the positive effects.
antigoracle
1.7 / 5 (18) Apr 10, 2013
Poor Polar Bears will have to learn to climb trees like their southern cousins.
And so the AGW lies continues
Maggnus
3.6 / 5 (14) Apr 10, 2013
We always see the possible negative effects but there are always two sides to a coin, what are the positive effects.


Well, frankly there isn't much positive to comment on. Ocean levels will eventually stabilize. The next iceage that was due to be starting in the next couple of thousand years will likely not occur, and if any of our ancestors survive they'll probably be somewhat thankful for that. The Earth itself will see some healing, depending on how many humans are left to fish and hunt whatever adapts fast enough to survive.
The planetary changes may force us into space. We'll likely see some innovation for CO2 removal from the oceans and atmosphere. Some would say a "correction" in human populations would be a good thing.
Not much positive though, really.
antigoracle
1.8 / 5 (16) Apr 10, 2013
Well, frankly there isn't much positive to comment on. Ocean levels will eventually stabilize. The next iceage that was due to be starting in the next couple of thousand years will likely not occur, and if any of our ancestors survive they'll probably be somewhat thankful for that. The Earth itself will see some healing, depending on how many humans are left to fish and hunt whatever adapts fast enough to survive.
The planetary changes may force us into space. We'll likely see some innovation for CO2 removal from the oceans and atmosphere. Some would say a "correction" in human populations would be a good thing.
Not much positive though, really.

Hmmmm.... someone been staring too long into the CO2 filled crystal ball..eh.
Czcibor
2.6 / 5 (13) Apr 11, 2013
We always see the possible negative effects but there are always two sides to a coin, what are the positive effects.


Well, frankly there isn't much positive to comment on.


Lower cost of central heating? Less infections during winter period? Higher crop yields due to longer vegetation period and higher CO2 levels? Lower cost of sea transport from Asia to Europe?

Actually in this article we're panicking that new forests would grow. ;) (Yes, I understand terms like "positive feedback loop", however, there is some paradox in complaining about increasing forest cover.)

To be honest the way in which GW is depicted in media is a bit misleading, instead of "doom" it should be more like "annoying changes, sometimes negative and sometimes positive for us, for which not all species would adapt quick enough".
Maggnus
3.8 / 5 (13) Apr 11, 2013
Lower cost of central heating? Less infections during winter period? Higher crop yields due to longer vegetation period and higher CO2 levels? Lower cost of sea transport from Asia to Europe?


Reaching bit don't you think? Lower heating costs, maybe, what about higher air-conditioning costs? And just because there is global warming does not mean there will be no winter, so central heating will still be needed. So not a likely outcome.
Less infections? How do you come up with this one? And how about, say malaria for example, rising temperatures will likely extend the range of the disease? Higher crop yields won't happen in a warmer world,and any gains from an extended range will be lost through desertification and reduced yield.
Its not just "annoying changes" and whether or not it is happening, to suggest that a warmer world would somehow be a better place is ridiculously simplistic.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (13) Apr 11, 2013
Reaching bit don't you think? Lower heating costs, maybe, what about higher air-conditioning costs? And just because there is global warming does not mean there will be no winter, so central heating will still be needed. So not a likely outcome.
Less infections? How do you come up with this one? And how about, say malaria for example, rising temperatures will likely extend the range of the disease? Higher crop yields won't happen in a warmer world,and any gains from an extended range will be lost through desertification and reduced yield.
Its not just "annoying changes" and whether or not it is happening, to suggest that a warmer world would somehow be a better place is ridiculously simplistic.

Obviously Maggnus knows better than history - http://www.stanfo...con.html but then he has a CO2 filled crystal ball.
Czcibor
2.4 / 5 (9) Apr 11, 2013
Reaching bit don't you think? Lower heating costs, maybe, what about higher air-conditioning costs?
In my country central heating is a base necessity that everyone has to have, while air conditioning is a luxury product. I mean I would not be as candid as you are to admit that I value those who can afford air conditioning over general population of my country.

And just because there is global warming does not mean there will be no winter, so central heating will still be needed. So not a likely outcome.
So one still needs a heating system, but this system would stay idle for practically all time? I think that we have an agreement here, though presumably you have to rethink whether less heating maybe mean less expenditure on heating...
Czcibor
2.8 / 5 (9) Apr 11, 2013
Less infections? How do you come up with this one? And how about, say malaria for example, rising temperatures will likely extend the range of the disease?

That majority of infections in my country are during winter period? It's quite simple. Concerning malaria - actually in southern part of Poland we used to have it. Until in '50s, before communist haven't eliminated the only specie of malaria mosquito that we had by chemical agents (I think that it was DDT, but may check that).

Higher crop yields won't happen in a warmer world,and any gains from an extended range will be lost through desertification and reduced yield.
With Siberia and whole Canada suddenly turning in to arable land I think that the calculation is not so simple.
Czcibor
2.7 / 5 (10) Apr 11, 2013
Its not just "annoying changes" and whether or not it is happening, to suggest that a warmer world would somehow be a better place is ridiculously simplistic.

Well, I merely combating ridiculously simplistic idea, that a warmer world would be automatically and in all categories a worse place. Actually it would be simply different with both positive and negative outcomes. I saw studies showing that MILD warming would actually mean higher yields.
deepsand
3.2 / 5 (13) Apr 11, 2013
We always see the possible negative effects but there are always two sides to a coin, what are the positive effects.

Not only is not all of life a coin, but it is not necessarily the case that the two sides stand as polar opposites in any respect.
Neinsense99
3.3 / 5 (12) Apr 12, 2013
"And so the AGW lies continues"

Well, you and your ilk are nothing if not persistent. :)
antigoracle
1.7 / 5 (12) Apr 12, 2013
Recent studies in Siberia have established conclusively that trees were present across the entire Russian Arctic, all the way to the northernmost shore, during the warm period that occurred about 8000-9000 years ago, a few thousand years after the end of the last ice age.

http://www.greenf...ndra.htm
It's all natural folks. All the billions, being wasted on propagating this AGW lie, could be better spent curing cancer. Don't you think?
antigoracle
1.7 / 5 (12) Apr 12, 2013
A general concern, is that status quo of mountain habitats and ecosystems is threatened and that projected future warming might cause extensive biodiversity and ecosystem loss in high mountains worldwide...
However, empirical evidence relating to almost a century of climate warming has lent no support to these DIRE MODEL predictions...
In addition, model predictions that alpine treelines respond to climate warming with time lags in the order of 150–200 years (Birks and Birks 2008) are invalidated by extensive and long-term landscape-scale observations

http://www.ncbi.n...3357692/

The AGW "scientist" and fanatics are using computer models to propagate their lies. Let REAL science prevail and be your guide.
deepsand
3 / 5 (12) Apr 13, 2013
The AGW "scientist" and fanatics are using computer models to propagate their lies. Let REAL science prevail and be your guide.

You might begin by setting a good example for others, rather than spouting junk.
antigoracle
1.4 / 5 (10) Apr 13, 2013
The AGW "scientist" and fanatics are using computer models to propagate their lies. Let REAL science prevail and be your guide.

You might begin by setting a good example for others, rather than spouting junk.

Oh! Look at it. It surfaced from the depths of its ignorance with that gem of a response.
http://www.ncbi.n...3357692/
deepsand
3.2 / 5 (13) Apr 14, 2013
Your point being?
Neinsense99
3.9 / 5 (7) Jun 03, 2013
The whole of Canada turning into arable land? Google the Canadian Shield and look at it on a map. Most of Quebec is glacier-scoured rock with thin soil, most of northern Ontario too, plus a lot of the northern prairies. That will never be arable. Some of the southwestern prairies are drought prone.