The warming climate causes rapid shifts in inland Arctic ecosystems. These shifts are often linked to changes in permafrost and water conditions.
Researchers at Stockholm University show that there is a lack of monitoring of permafrost and water changes along with the linked ecosystem shifts. This means a risk of missing important knowledge about the climate-related ecosystem changes.
“Enhanced and coordinated ecological and hydrological monitoring is needed to increase our understanding of climate-related ecosystem changes, and the ability to predict where such changes might happen in the future, “says Johanna Mård Karlsson, a researcher at the Department of Physical Geography and Bert Bolin Centre for Climate Research at Stockholm University.
In a recent article published in Environmental Research Letters, Mård Karlsson and centre researchers Line Gordon and Garry Peterson, joined colleagues from Bert Bolin Centre of Climate Research to shed a light on the untapped potential of eco-hydrological monitoring in the Arctic.
They have identified, described and mapped the distribution of three different types of climate-related ecosystem shifts within the 24 million km2 Pan-Arctic drainage basin:
(1) shift from tundra to forest, (2) shift from terrestrial ecosystems to thermokarst lakes and wetlands that are formed in depressions by meltwater from thawing permafrost, and (3) shift from thermokarst lakes and wetlands to terrestrial ecosystems.
The mapping of ecosystem shifts has been compared with the available ecological and hydrological monitoring in the Arctic.
In the study, the researchers identified “hot spot" areas in some parts of the Arctic where systematic water monitoring overlapped with ecological monitoring and observed ecosystem shift occurrences.
“This overlap provides opportunities to improve our regime shift understanding, and detection and prediction capabilities. But, there is still areas with large spatial mismatch between the coverage of ecological and hydrological monitoring, and areas where there is no available monitoring at all," Mård Karlsson says.
Shifts may be more widespread than previously thought
The study not only shows a large mismatch between hydrological and ecological monitoring, but also that the total occurrence area of the shifts may be underestimated.
Most of the observed ecosystems shifts are in near range of an ecological research station and do therefore not necessarily represent the areas of greatest shift occurrence.
“Ecosystem shifts are likely to proceed in the Arctic. In order to detect changes that can trigger ecosystem shifts, we need to monitor the key mechanisms. Hence the need for improved coordination between ecological and hydrological monitoring, to better understand cause and effect in ecological change, “ Karlsson concludes.
See video interview with Professor Terry Chapin from University of Alaska Fairbanks explaining the consequences of climate change in the Arctic: