Whispers of Ecological Change in the Arctic Are Trying to Tell Us Something. Are We Listening?
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Avery McGaha, one of two master’s students who joined me in Tromsø, Norway to attend the Arctic Frontiers conference in January, 2014. It is supplemented with some additional reporting by me. McGaha’s trip was made possible by a grant from the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism.
Following the recent announcement by NASA and NOAA that 2014 was likely the hottest year on record a loud controversy erupted over global warming. As DotEarth blogger Andrew Revkin pointed out, the fight was a distraction from the clear-cut, long-term trend of rising temperatures.
The noise about global warming overall has also tended to drown out relative whispers of subtle — but significant — change taking place at a variety of scales in the Arctic. These range from tiny organisms living underneath sea ice, all the way up to charismatic creatures like reindeer and walruses, as well as the food webs of which these living things are a part.
One example of the ecological whispers coming from the Arctic: Recent research has shown that warming in the Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia has caused an increase in the productivity of phytoplankton, tiny photosynthesizing organisms that sustain aquatic food webs. You can see a big, beautiful — and natural — bloom of phytoplankton in the satellite image above.
Satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing comprise a powerful tool for monitoring the Arctic. But scientists also have been digging beneath these broad views and turning up other evidence of change.
Warmer and Wetter Winters
TO BE CONTINUED ON