Santa May or May Not be White. But the Arctic is, Increasingly, Green..

December 18, 2013

santasnlArctic Report Card:

Satellites above the Earth are documenting a striking change in the Arctic. Not only is open water area increasing in the region, but adjacent land areas are growing “greener.” Since observations began in 1982, Arctic-wide tundra vegetation productivity has increased. In North America, the rate of greening has accelerated since 2005.

One of NOAA’s satellite remote sensors—the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR)—collects images of our planet’s surface, which scientists use to carefully measure the intensity of visible and near-infrared sunlight reflected by plants back up into space. From these measurements, they are able to determine the density of vegetation, or “greenness,” on land. The map above shows changes in greenness at the peak of the growing season between 1982 and 2012. All around the Arctic, the tundra has grown greener, with exceptions in western Alaska, and northwestern and northeastern Siberia.

The video below is a quick cliff notes version of the Arctic Report card released last week at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco:

Arctic Report Card continued:

Increases in vegetation productivity are often connected to declining sea ice, increasing open water, and greater summer warmth in the Arctic. However, factors other than these can affect plant growth. Snow cover decline is thought to be among the main culprits behind the prolonged length of the Arctic growing season, which has increased by nine days per decade since 1982. Another factor in controlling the rate of greening in the Arctic is large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns. In Eurasia, lower temperatures and increased cloud cover in the summer lead to a more gradual greening compared to eastern North America, where cloud-free skies during the summer promote accelerated greening.

Overall, the greener, warmer, less icy Arctic of recent years is likely to be the new normal. One of the most obvious signs of this transformation is the spread of shrubs throughout the tundra. Across the Siberian tundra, tall shrubs and trees have expanded in landscapes at rates of up to 25 percent since the mid-to-late 1960s. Observations from Europe, Alaska, and Siberia in recent decades show that plant communities have become less diverse as mosses, lichens, and other shorter-growing vegetation disappear under the shade created by shrubs. The loss of lichens, in particular, could pose a problem for caribou and reindeer, which forage on them extensively.

A senior Glaciologist wrote me from south Greenland some months ago, “I was STUNNED to see the forests there this August..” and included some stills.



In addition,  there is reason to be concerned about Santa’s Reindeer.

The heat is on for the world’s caribou with a new study warning the creatures could lose as much as 60 per cent of their range within 60 years.

Caribou, often called reindeer, are among the most numerous and mysterious animals in Canada, but many herds are in decline.

And while it might be fun to think they can fly with Santa, the report says there will be no escaping the rising temperatures transforming their habitat.

“The changes will be worse in North America than in Europe,” said Steeve Cote, a caribou expert at Laval University. He led the international study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

It reveals a distinct genetic lineage of caribou found only in Canada. And it says the lineage “is likely to become increasingly fragmented, possibly disappearing from most of its present range.”

The scientists estimate 89 per cent of the “suitable area” for these caribou, which are found in Labrador, Quebec and Ontario and are a dietary mainstay for many First Nations people, could be lost within 60 years. That compares a 60 per cent loss in range predicted for the lineage that makes up the rest of the world’s caribou.

The study analyzed DNA from 1,300 caribou from across North America, Europe, Russia and Greenland. It is the most comprehensive look yet at how the animals responded to past climate change and how they ‘ll  fare as temperature climb in coming decades due to the greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere.

Arctic Report Card:

The map shows the current status of 24 major migratory tundra reindeer and caribou herds. Green indicates increasing populations; red indicates decreasing numbers; black and yellow indicate populations have remained stable either on the high or low end of their historic numbers. Only a few herds are increasing or are stable at high numbers; the most recent population estimates indicate that most herds continue to decline or remain at low numbers after severe declines.

Just as scientists try to figure out the causes behind climate cycles, wildlife experts are trying to understand what is behind cycles in herd populations. Local and traditional knowledge indicates that caribou go through periods of abundance and scarcity every 40-60 years. The size of individual herds has varied greatly since 1970 when population estimates began. Since it is normal for herds to vary in size over time, scientists are still uncertain whether the current low numbers are natural or perhaps driven by some of the rapid changes in the Arctic environment. For some herds, their current ranges are approaching the low end of their historic extent.

In the United States, there are four distinct herds of caribou in Alaska—two that are decreasing in number and two that are increasing. The Western Arctic herd—the state’s largest—reached a population low of 75,000 in the mid-1970s, and then rebounded during the 1980s and 1990s to reach a peak of 490,000 in 2003. The herd then declined to 325,000 in 2011. While the herd is still very large, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it may become necessary to reduce harvests in the future if this decline continues.

Many countries are attempting to stabilize population numbers through harvest management. Beginning in 2000, Greenland began to allow hunting to reduce caribou populations. Despite this, surveys indicated that the largest herd, the Kangerlussuaq-Sisimiut, remained at around 98,000 animals. The second largest, Akia-Maniitsoq, decreased from an estimated 46,000 in 2001 to about 17,400 in 2010. One possible cause might be differences in topography: hunting access is easier in the Akia-Maniitsoq territory compared to the rough, mountainous terrain that the Kangerlussuaq-Sisimiut inhabits.

24 Responses to “Santa May or May Not be White. But the Arctic is, Increasingly, Green..”

  1. jsam Says:

    This space intentionally left blank for Omnologos.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Before O-Log gets here, I’d like to say that I really can’t comprehend how anyone can be an AGW denier in the face of all the evidence like this that keeps piling up, and Peter certainly puts it out there.

    I noticed that the count of “amazing people” that follow this blog is going up. I’d like to think I helped that a bit by recommending Crock to friends and family and FW-ing many of the posts. Crock IS the “sharpest” debunker IMO, and the videos are appealing and understandable by all but the most science-challenged—much easier to digest than what you see on SkS, for instance.

    So, spread the word—tell everyone to start here for climate change info. There’s a lot of ignorance of the facts out there.

    • The problem is not ignorance unfortunately. My entire family are ultraconservative all are deniers as well as Fox news junk hounds with the exception of my wife. I will show them journal entries and various other scientific publications that would prove them wrong and they still deny it.

      For example they always argue that climate change (as opposed to global warming) is a recent concoction. Even though I’ll pull out copies of publications including originals that show the contrary. My favorite is the 1975 National Academy of Sciences called “Understanding Climate Change: A Program for Action”
      An incredible book that you can still get secondhand

      Habitually uses the word climate change throughout the book, talks about carbon dioxide increasing global temperatures a half degrees Celsius by the year 2000, paleoclimate the period “Through 1100 to 1400 sometimes called the middle age warm epic but was evidently not as warm as the first half of the 20th century.” And they just totally ignore it. If they don’t believe it that it is not real. Adding to the adage believing is seeing in the absence of intellect.

      • Lee Pillow Says:

        We have to change our approach in how we engage the denier community, in the hopes that we might convert a few more casual readers. This research project suggest a path we might consider, when the opportunity presents itself.

        …”Cook also showed that when presented with facts, a worldview backfire effect can actually reinforce belief of misinformation. For example, in one experiment, American conservatives were more likely to believe there were WMDs in Iraq when presented with evidence to the contrary.

        Let’s make that point again: When presented with evidence there were no WMDs in Iraq, Conservative belief of the myth actually increased.

        However, Cook found that priming people by first explaining the origin of the myth, also known as agnotology-based learning, is an effective myth-debunking approach. In fact, presenting only a primer (discussing tobacco industry use of fake experts) prior to the myth (that the Oregon Petition proves there is no consensus on global warming) negated the effect of the myth across the political spectrum, without even presenting the facts (97 percent expert consensus)!”

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Yes, it’s a good idea to try to mitigate the backfire effect, which research has shown to be quite strong. One problem—who is going to provide the $$$ to match what the Koch brothers, other fossil fuel interests, the corporations, and the plutocracy are spending to maintain the status quo and spread confusion?

      • dumboldguy Says:

        I was using the term “ignorance” as meaning “unaware” of the facts”, not the type of WILLFUL ignorance that you describe. I was suggesting that we spread the word particularly among those who just don’t know but are open-minded enough to want to learn the truth.

        Among the cognitively dissonant and confirmation bias-afflicted, any attempt to educate them will likely lead to the well known “backfire effect”, in which they become even firmly set in their beliefs. That’s because their brains are wired to operate from belief and emotions rather than rational analysis of fact. They know what they WANT to believe, and that’s the end of it—-don’t bother them with the facts. (Remember the old saw about teaching pigs to whistle)

    • fortranprog Says:

      I appreciate Peter’s “Crock of the week” approach too, I am suspicious of polished, ex-politicians like Al Gore, and scientists can be very hard to understand (to a layman like me) and many lack social/media skills and personalities, but Peter puts facts out regularly in straight language and keeps our minds tuned to the ongoing problem and some solutions. I believe people do not need to be “converted” as in a religion, they just need to know the plain, simple facts (most people are just to busy to take the time to find out – including me until I ceased work in 2008). This is a great way to put information out and together with schooling and education I can see and hope the problem being acted upon before it is far too late. It is an extremely slow/gradual process and I think/hope mankind still has time to act before any “tipping” points are encountered. I would like to think our species can survive longer than dinosaurs did and until our sun burns out, and then beyond that on a distant planet. Just got to lose this self destruct instinct we seem to have in wars and industry.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Well said. You sound like someone who wants to learn—-we need more like you.

        One small thing. Try not to think of Al Gore as a “polished ex-politician”, but as someone who has been on the right side of climate change for many decades. (And i question the use of “polished” anyway. If he had been more “polished”, he might have won in 2000)

        • fortranprog Says:

          Point taken regards Al Gore – but I’ve had a very tough time with local deniers and skeptics with Al Gore, so as long as they keep that buffoon Lord Monkton out of it, I’ll keep Al Gore out of it, anyway it is more interesting trying to keep up with the real climate scientists.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, Al Gore is a favorite straw man for the deniers, and when his weight is up he has a fine silhouette for them to poke at, but he should not be mentioned on the same page as the one you so correctly called a “buffoon”. Gore has real credentials (and some baggage, unfortunately). The buffoon has NO credibility at all.

          • fortranprog Says:

            Apologies for including the two names in the same sentence, from now on Lord you-know-who will be like Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter stories “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” .

  3. Jean Mcmahon Says:

    Happy Solstice..from the Reindeer People:Beiwe Festival (Sami people of Fennoscandia)
    See also: Beiwe

    The Saami, indigenous people of Finland, Sweden and Norway, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of fertility and sanity. She travels through the sky in a structure made of reindeer bones with her daughter, Beiwe-Neia, to herald back the greenery on which the reindeer feed. On the winter solstice, her worshippers sacrifice white female animals, and thread the meat onto sticks, which they bend into rings and tie with bright ribbons. They also cover their doorposts with butter so that Beiwe can eat it and begin her journey once again.[9]

  4. fortranprog Says:

    I think it was not mentioned in the excellent NOAA report that methane levels have risen considerably during the warmer season, although more short lived than CO2, this will effect 2014 summer events considerably.

  5. Even without any contribution by man in global warming, it is heartening to see that Mother Nature is slowly but surely restoring Earth to the lush green conditions in the High Arctic where fawn and flora once flourished…

  6. A bit off topic perhaps but Santa has ‘evolved’ from a real historical figure – Saint Nicholas – who was Turkish.
    Or rather he lived in an area that is now part of mordern day Turkey.
    I think it was still part of Greece when he was around.
    So he might not have been black but he was definitely brownish.

    Same deal with Christ. There is no evidence that he existed at all as an individual living person. There is not one single solitary contemporary reference to him.
    Zero, zilch, nada, nothing.

    The first mention of him comes at least 70 years after his supposed death and he is described as being “short, hunch-backed, black ‘woolly’ hair and with a thin face and long thin nose”
    He didn’t begin to become tall white blue-eyed and Nordic looking until the 15th century.

    Just thought I’d mention that.

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