The Arctic is turning brown because of weird weather – and it could accelerate climate change

The Arctic is turning brown because of weird weather – and it could accelerate climate change

‘Brow-raising browning. Rachael Treharne, Author provided

Over the last few years Arctic scientists have reported a surprising finding: large areas of the Arctic are turning brown. This is in part due to extreme events linked to winter weather, such as sudden, short-lived periods of extreme warmth. These events are occurring as the climate warms, which is happening twice as fast in the Arctic compared with the rest of the planet. Extreme events are therefore happening more and more often, with increasingly severe effects – including widespread damage and death in Arctic plants.

This “browning” of plant communities has happened over thousands of square kilometres or more. However, until recently we knew very little about what this might mean for the balance between carbon uptake and release in Arctic ecosystems. Given that the Arctic stores twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, this is a pressing concern.

Now, our study has shown that extreme climatic events can significantly reduce the ability of Arctic ecosystems to take up carbon –- with implications for whether the Arctic will help combat climate change, or accelerate it.

The Arctic is turning brown because of weird weather – and it could accelerate climate change Dead and brown vegetation on a heathland in Norway. Rachael Treharne, Author provided

The carbon cost of extreme weather

To understand how extreme events are affecting Arctic heathlands, we travelled to the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway where coastal, sub-Arctic plant communities act as a bellwether for future climate change in the far north by exhibiting the effects of warming in the region first.

Here we found the effects of two extreme winter weather events. First, “frost drought” had caused extensive plant dieback. Frost drought occurs when the insulating layer of snow which usually protects plants from the harsh Arctic winter is melted, typically by unusually high winter temperatures. If plants remain exposed to cold, windy conditions for long enough, they continually lose water and are unable to replace it from the frozen soil. Eventually, they succumb to drought.

The second event was “extreme winter warming” – a sudden burst of high temperatures during winter which melts the snow and tricks evergreen plants into preparing for spring by shedding their cold tolerance. When the warm period is over, the return of cold temperatures usually kills the plant. In this case, however, we found something unexpected. Heathland plants had survived this extreme winter warming event, but were showing evidence of severe stress, visible as a deep, persistent dark red colour in shoots and leaves.

The Arctic is turning brown because of weird weather – and it could accelerate climate change Deep red pigmentation indicates that this plant is under stress from the unpredictable climate. Rachael Treharne, Author provided

We measured how much carbon dioxide was being taken in and released by the plants in three vegetation types: damaged heathland (where the dominant evergreen species had been killed by frost drought), stressed heathland, and healthy, green heathland which had escaped the effects of either extreme event. This was done in three measurement periods across the growing season.

We found that these extreme winter conditions reduced how much carbon was absorbed in heathland ecosystems by up to 50% across the entire growing season. This is a huge reduction in the ability of a widespread Arctic ecosystem to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Surprisingly, this was the case both in damaged heathland, where a large part of the vegetation had been killed, and in stressed heathland. Although the processes driving this change were different in each type of heathland, this clearly shows that we need to consider the role of plant stress in limiting plant carbon uptake to fully appreciate the consequences of extreme climatic events.

The Great Brown North

What does this mean for the Arctic? We now know that extreme climatic events could significantly reduce the ability of Arctic ecosystems to take up carbon and combat climate change.

This is especially concerning as the impacts of browning are in stark contrast to those of a better understood response of Arctic ecosystems to climate change: “Arctic greening”, or the tendency for plants to become taller and more productive as Arctic summers warm.

The Arctic is turning brown because of weird weather – and it could accelerate climate change Instruments measuring carbon uptake and release at the test site. Rachael Treharne, Author provided

Many climate models currently assume arbitrary levels of greening across the Arctic, and therefore that Arctic ecosystems will take up more carbon in the future – slowing climate change. The scale of the browning we’ve seen in recent years combined with the negative impacts on carbon uptake reported here suggests that the reality may be more complex, calling into question our understanding of the role of the Arctic in the Earth’s climate.

What does this mean for us? The impact of extreme weather events in the Arctic has global consequences. It is clear that our current efforts to tackle climate change are dangerously inadequate, but ambitious action now could cut how much the Arctic is expected to warm by as much as 7°C. This is critical to minimising the impacts of climate change both in Arctic ecosystems and worldwide.The Conversation

About The Author

Rachael Treharne, PhD Researcher in Arctic Ecology, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

List Price: $20.00
Price: $20.00
Product Description: "An argument for combating climate change through modifying agricultural practices and eating habits. Seenarine (Education and Empowerment Among Dalit (Untouchable) Women in India, 2004) argues for a meatless diet as a key tactic for reducing greenhouse gases, minimizing weather changes, and improving human health. The book provides a dense overview of current climate science and policy, and reviews the impact of rising temperatures on not only the physical environment, but also economics, international relations, and gender politics. The reduction or elimination of meat consumption (referred to here as “carnism”) is held up as the solution to a thoroughly researched, footnoted argument. Seenarine draws on a variety of research to present a solid case for recognizing meat production as a significant factor in greenhouse-gas emissions." - Kirkus ReviewsMeat Climate Change is an essential guidebook on the intersection of climate and diet, and related environmental, social and psychological issues. The book covers a wide range of disciplines, and reviews hundreds of research studies." The good news is that plant-based diets can stop climate chaos! This must-read, essential guidebook show how, and in addition there are chapters on the critical 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, health under climate change, diet and health, antibiotic resistance, food-borne illness, and zootic diseases like bird flu. The book examines intersectional issues like how climate and diet will impact agriculture, the poor, water, forests, soil, oceans, biodiversity and disease.The book provides an excellent background on climate literacy, and great insights into climate politics. Importantly, it explores near term climate change scenarios to the year 2100, and necessary personal, social and policy changes for climate mitigation.

Product Description: Science Is Never “Settled” Thousands of scientists are convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that recent global warming is being caused by emissions of greenhouse gases and that we must act immediately to reduce these emissions or else we may render Earth unlivable for our children and our grandchildren. Some even say “the science is settled.” What Really Causes Global Warming examines a broad range of observations that show that greenhouse warming theory is not only misguided, but not physically possible. Recent warming was caused by ozone depletion due to emissions of human-manufactured gases. We solved that problem with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer stopping the increase in global temperatures by 1998. Volcanoes also deplete ozone. The eruption of Bárðarbunga volcano in central Iceland from August 2014 to February 2015—the largest effusive, basaltic, volcanic eruption since 1783—caused 2015 to be the hottest year on record. How can we adapt? “The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world.”— Michael Crichton, 2003

Product Description:

Causes & Effects Of A Life-Threatening Phenomenon & Ways To Make Planet Earth A Better Place

Tons of ink has been spent explaining and analyzing the root causes of the greenhouse effect and exploring possible corrective steps in order to stop global warming.

To some, the culprit is irresponsible human activity, our carbon footprint on water, land and air, which pollutes our natural resources and takes a toll on our quality of life.

To others, climate change is just part of a natural course and humans are just the victims suffering the inevitable consequences.

Far more than a hotly debated issue, climate change is a reality; it is a factor transforming the face of our planet slowly but steadily and as such it definitely deserves thorough study.

Delving Into The Mysteries Of Climate Change

Written in an easy-to-follow, comprehensive language, Climate Change is an eye-opening book intending to explore the roots of the issue, discuss its various implications, shed light on the consequences on our life and examine our alternatives in preventing disaster.

Find out what caused the alarming greenhouse effect and to what extent the rising Earth temperatures are due to the gas emissions of industries, the fumes of our vehicles, deforestation, aerosols and waste dumped in our seas, lakes and rivers.

Learn how our daily rat race made us deaf the screams of our ailing planet, until biodiversity loss took irreversible dimensions.

Knowledge is power and Climate Change aspiresto make a powerful tool in raising public awareness.

Let’s Take Action!

Alarmed about the serious effects, the global community decided to move on to corrective steps, in an attempt to harness the disastrous consequences of climate change.

Get insight into the climate change policy that intends to eliminate iceberg melting and disruption of food security, get informed about the key features of corporate climate change strategy and the changes occurring in agriculture in an attempt to adapt to the new situation.

And the most important thing, find out what YOU can do to go ‘green’, from using your car less, to joining recycling programs, planting a tree or turning your home into energy-efficient.

In two words, our planet’s future is still in our hands. Let’s make sure it is the rosy future deserved by our children!

Get Climate Change NOW! Let’s Take Action All Together & Give Our Planet A Chance!

English Afrikaans Arabic Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Dutch Filipino French German Hindi Indonesian Italian Japanese Korean Malay Persian Portuguese Russian Spanish Swahili Swedish Thai Turkish Urdu Vietnamese


Jay Inslee Tells Hayes That He Wants To Gut The Filibuster To Fight Climate Change
Washington Governor Jay Inslee is running for president on the single issue of climate change and argues that doing…
Causes and Effects of Climate Change
by National Geographic
What causes climate change (also known as global warming)? And what are the effects of climate change? Learn the human…
Extreme Weather and Global Warming
by NASA Goddard
Is the frequency of extreme weather events a sign that global warming is gaining pace and exceeding predictions? Bill…
Thanks to Climate Change, Wet Winters No Match for Drier California Summers
by KPIX CBS SF Bay Area
If the emerald-green hills around Northern California have you thinking recent rains have put a damper on the fire…
Climate Change Is Not One Issue
"Climate change is not one issue," said David Wallace-Wells, author of "The Uninhabitable Earth," but is…
The Heat: Climate change
by CGTN America
Images gathered by NASA show an increase in foliage in China and India. The greening effect is mainly due to ambitious…
No company is doing enough to combat climate change: Jeremy Grantham
by CNBC Television
Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of GMO, on climate change and what needs to be done to combat it.
Power Plants Are POISONING Groundwater All Over America
by The Ring of Fire
According to a new report, 90% of coal-fired power plants across the country have completely contaminated the…


Default Image
Come on, UK weather forecasters – tell it like it is on climate change
by Adam Corner
They have a national reach that most climate campaigners would die for. They are familiar and respected experts on the…
Green New Deal: 6 places already reducing emissions from buildings
Green New Deal: 6 places already reducing emissions from buildings
by David Roberts
One of the elements of the Green New Deal resolution that has caused the most consternation among critics on the right…
Default Image
UK environmentalists target Barclays in fossil fuels campaign
by Matthew Taylor
A UK-wide campaign is being launched to persuade one of the country’s biggest high street banks to stop investing…
Oceanic carbon uptake could falter
Oceanic carbon uptake could falter
by Tim Radford
What does oceanic carbon uptake achieve? Greenhouse gas that sinks below the waves slows global warming a little and…
Britain (Yes, Rainy Britain) Could Run Short of Water by 2050, Official Says
Britain (Yes, Rainy Britain) Could Run Short of Water by 2050, Official Says
by Global Warming & Climate Change
“Climate change plus growth equals an existential threat,” Mr. Bevan said. To avoid severe water shortages, he added,…
Default Image
Record high US temperatures outpace record lows two to one, study finds
by Associated Press
Over the past 20 years, Americans have been twice as likely to sweat through record-breaking heat rather than shiver…
Climate change: Water shortages in England 'within 25 years'
Climate change: Water shortages in England 'within 25 years'
by BBC News - Science & Environment
Image copyright PA Image caption Low water levels at Wayoh Reservoir near Bolton in the UK heatwave in July 2018 Within…
Default Image
Why you'll never meet a white supremacist who cares about climate change
by Rebecca Solnit
As the news of the Christchurch mosque massacre broke and I scoured the news, I came across a map showing that the…