Elise Gallois is a Ph.D. student (E4 DTP NERC) at the University of Edinburgh School of GeoSciences. Elise studies tundra ecosystem change across microclimates and spatial scales, and her current research projects orbit the themes of below-ground plant growth, reconstructing past ecological change and investigating the various drivers of plant growth and reproduction across the Arctic.
5 facts about the Arctic
- While many people imagine the Arctic to be an icy wilderness, much of the region actually falls within the ‘tundra’ biome. This is a surprisingly biodiverse landscape characterised by a lack of trees, and small, hardy and vibrant shrubs, sedges and grasses which bloom for only a handful of weeks in the summer when the midnight sun and warmer temperatures allow flowers to bud, bloom and disperse their seeds across the landscape.
- The Arctic is warming at over twice the rate of the global average, and this warming is triggering potentially huge landscape changes including widespread accelerated plant growth. Many plants are growing larger and encroaching northwards – a process we call ‘shrubification’, or Arctic greening.
- Arctic greening has the potential to further alter the climate system even more as a greener Arctic will absorb more summer heat – darker patches of tundra decreases the landscape’s ‘albedo effect’. In contrast, snowier, un-vegetated patches are more likely to reflect sunlight away from the Earth’s surface.
- Warmer Arctic summers are also changing the timings of the growing season for many common tundra plant species. In many locations across the Arctic, plants are flowering and dispersing seeds increasingly earlier every summer.
- Just like the annual rings of a tree, many common tundra shrubs contain living archives of their yearly growth – we can count these growth rings and use their widths to investigate the relationships between plant productivity and local environmental conditions such as soil moisture and surface temperature.
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