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| Earth on Aug 24, 2009

Skip Walker on satellite observations of Arctic greening

You might picture the Arctic as endlessly white. But Skip Walker, a geobotanist at the University of Alaska, told us that satellite data shows the Arctic is ‘greening.’

You might picture the Arctic as endlessly white. But Skip Walker, a geobotanist at the University of Alaska, told us that satellite data shows the Arctic is ‘greening.’

Skip Walker: There’s a lot of things that happen with greening. You can increase the length of the growing season, starting earlier in the spring, ending later in the fall – such things as more shrub cover, greater density of vegetation, less space between plants on the ground.

Walker said that greening is happening because both Arctic air and land have been warming. The warming of Arctic seas means less cold air over the Arctic.

Skip Walker: You can think of the cold air mass that lies over the Arctic ocean as a big pool of cold air that spills onto the land, and the ice content of the ocean affects the size and the strength of the cold air effect.

Walker’s team has been studying some of the most remote areas of the Arctic – including islands near Greenland, Russia and Canada – places he said, that few people will ever see.

Skip Walker: A lot of areas that are the most remote and that people know the least about are probably the most susceptible. We can easily detect changes in biodiversity because there’s very few species there, at present.

Our thanks to:
Skip Walker
University of Alaska
Fairbanks, Alaska