Climate change transforming Alaska's landscape

September 27, 2005

This press release is also available in French.

Ottawa, September 28, 2005 - Lakes and wetlands in the Kenai Peninsula of south-central Alaska are drying at a significant rate. The shift seems to be driven by climate change, and could endanger waterfowl habitats and hasten the spread of wildfires.

In a paper published in the August 2005 issue of the NRC Research Press' Canadian Journal of Forest Research, Eric Klein and his colleagues document a significant landscape shift from wetlands to woodland and forest in the Kenai Peninsula Lowlands.

The trend fits within a global picture of drying wetlands in northern latitudes, with similar changes already appearing in lower latitudes. Klein, a biologist who did his graduate research with Alaska Pacific University, says the transformation of Alaska's landscape corresponds with an increase in temperatures over the past 100 years. "When you look at the climatologic data, it shows a warming trend. This is just one of the physical manifestations of that trend that is hard to refute."

The researchers compared aerial photos of the Kenai Peninsula taken in 1950 and 1996. Combined with extensive field study and analysis of vegetation, the research confirms that the Kenai Peninsula is becoming woodier and dryer. In the areas studied, wooded areas increased from 57 percent to 73 percent from 1950 to 1996, while wetland areas decreased from 5 percent to 1 percent.

The results confirm what the researchers could see for themselves. "It's very clear when you fly over closed basin lakes, many of which are the kettle ponds left after the glaciers receded," says Klein. "They have a kind of apron, or area between the water and mature forest, and you can see it getting larger as the water goes down."

Global temperatures have increased by about 0.6°C over the past 100 years. The rate of temperature increase from 1976 to the present has been double that from 1910 to 1945 -- greater than at any other time during the last 1,000 years.

Over the past 30 years, temperatures in the Kenai Peninsula have increased 0.7°C. In the last 15 to 25 years, species such as dwarf birch, blueberries and black spruce have grown up in areas where wetlands had existed for 8,000 to 12,000 years. "These areas used to be soggy bogs with sphagnum peat moss, and no shrubs or trees," says Dr. Ed Berg, an ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The evidence for this is that when you dig down into the peat, you don't see any stems or shrubs. Had they grown there in the past, they would have been preserved because peat preserves things very well."

Wetlands are hotspots for biodiversity. The shift to woodland and forest means loss of many types of wetland vegetation and fewer habitats for migratory birds. The greater forest cover also creates a continuous swath of vegetation that helps wildfires to spread more quickly.

Similar drying is happening outside the Kenai Peninsula. "It's certainly happening in Alaska on a very broad scale," says Dr. Berg. "Much of the interior is showing the same kind of drying pattern."

If the warming trend continues, Alaska's lakes and wetlands will continue to disappear, creating a dryer landscape in the long term.

Klein says that Alaska's transformation is another piece of evidence in the climate change puzzle. "The bottom line is that a change is happening," he says. "There is an overall environment shift occurring in Alaska, and especially in the northern hemisphere. I think it's a bioindicator of climate change and what is happening to the planet as a whole."
-end-
The Canadian Journal of Forest Research is a scientific peer-reviewed journal published by the NRC Research Press, the publishing arm of the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI).

For the complete article, see http://pubs.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/cgi-bin/rp/rp2_abst_e?cjfr_x05-129_35_ns_nf_cjfr8-05.

About the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information
As an institute of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI) is one of the world's leading sources for information in all areas of science, technology, medicine and engineering. It is also Canada's foremost publisher of scientific journals and books, through the NRC Research Press, its publishing arm. With the ever-growing knowledge-based economy, CISTI is also increasingly considered a key strategic component of Canada's science and technology information infrastructure. Visit CISTI at http://cisti.nrc.gc.ca.

For further information, contact:

Eric Klein
Biologist
Alaska Pacific University
Tel.: (907) 261-9733
E-mail: eklein@alaskapacific.edu

Dr. Ed Berg
Ecologist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Tel.: (907) 260-2812
E-mail: edward_berg@fws.gov

Dr. Roman Dial
Biologist
Alaska Pacific University
Tel.: (907) 564-8296
E-mail: roman@alaskapacific.edu

Suzanne Kettley
Managing Editor, NRC Research Press
Tel.: (613) 993-9088
E-mail: suzanne.kettley@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

National Research Council of Canada

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.