Warmer Arctic linked to weaker vegetation growth in North America

The effects of climate change in the extreme north 
can be felt far away, researchers say

A protest sign outside Bakersfield, California in 2015 highlighted the urgency of the drought situation that year. Climate researchers say Arctic warming likely contributed to the severity.

Warmer temperatures in the Arctic are having an unexpected effect elsewhere in North America climate, scientists say.

Researchers from Korea’s Pohang University and the South University of Science and Technology of China say their analysis suggests the northernmost regions of the continent may be warming and becoming more productive. But that’s being offset by effects farther south.

That’s because the warmer Arctic has “… triggered cooler winters and spring in North America, which has in turn weakened vegetation growth and lowered carbon uptake capacity in its ecosystems,” they wrote in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The team analyzed an index of sea surface temperatures from the Bering Sea and found that in years with higher-than-average Arctic temperatures, changes in atmospheric circulation resulted in anomalous climates throughout North America. In those years of intense cold and low precipitation, the team found that the unfavourable conditions adversely affected vegetation growth — including crop yields — which in turn decreased carbon uptake capacity by about 14 per cent. In other words, although Arctic warming has increased carbon uptake in the Northern Hemisphere, this research has shown that the resulting variability in Arctic temperatures can affect regions farther away in North America and may counteract that carbon uptake.

The research team says this has important implications for climate adaptation efforts because it suggests that as warming trends continue, it’s likely that the ecosystems affected by the anomalous climate changes will see more damage resulting from their cold and dry spells.

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