Multi-Decadal Changes in Tundra Environments and Ecosystems: Synthesis of the International Polar Year-Back to the Future Project (IPY-BTF)
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Understanding the responses of tundra systems to global change has global implications. Most tundra regions lack sustained environmental monitoring and one of the only ways to document multi-decadal change is to resample historic research sites. The International Polar Year (IPY) provided a unique opportunity for such research through the Back to the Future (BTF) project (IPY project #512). This article synthesizes the results from 13 papers within this Ambio Special Issue. Abiotic changes include glacial recession in the Altai Mountains, Russia; increased snow depth and hardness, permafrost warming, and increased growing season length in sub-arctic Sweden; drying of ponds in Greenland; increased nutrient availability in Alaskan tundra ponds, and warming at most locations studied. Biotic changes ranged from relatively minor plant community change at two sites in Greenland to moderate change in the Yukon, and to dramatic increases in shrub and tree density on Herschel Island, and in sub-arctic Sweden. The population of geese tripled at one site in northeast Greenland where biomass in non-grazed plots doubled. A model parameterized using results from a BTF study forecasts substantial declines in all snowbeds and increases in shrub tundra on Niwot Ridge, Colorado over the next century. In general, results support and provide improved capacities for validating experimental manipulation, remote sensing, and modeling studies.
KeywordsIPY Glaciers Permafrost Snow stratigraphy Tundra vegetation Limnology Shrubs Treeline
This study is part of the IPY project 512, “Back to the Future” (www.ipybtf.org). We thank all the contributors to this Special Issue and those that have published previously or are in the process of publishing—particularly the many graduate students who have contributed to and benefited from this project. The project would have been impossible without the formative studies of many researchers who established the IBP Tundra Biome project and other long-term studies exploited in the BTF study. The co-ordination of the project was financed by a grant from the Swedish Science Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet grant number 327-2007-833) to TVC and the US National Science Foundation (ANS-0732885, OPP-9906692) to CT. TVC also gratefully acknowledges support from the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (Formas grants numbered 214-2008-188 and 214-2009-389). The remaining co-authors acknowledge their national research councils for supporting their participation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US-NSF.
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