Trees may grow 500 km further north by 2100

Fri May 13, 2011 2:50pm EDT
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By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

OSLO (Reuters) - Trees in the Arctic region may grow 500 km (300 miles) further north by 2100 as climate change greens the barren tundra and causes sweeping change to wildlife, a leading expert said.

A quickening melt of snow, ice and permafrost will enable more southerly species such as pine trees or animals such as foxes to move north.

"Changes seem to be happening even more rapidly than we had anticipated just 10 years ago," Aevar Petersen, chair of the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), told Reuters from Greenland on Thursday, where foreign ministers of Arctic countries agreed steps to bolster regional cooperation.

"Scientists estimate the treeline could move 500 km north by 2100 from now," he said, based on CAFF projections. If that happened, as much as half the Arctic tundra from Siberia to Canada could vanish.

In some places, southerly evergreen shrubs were taking over from grasses, mosses and lichens typical of tundra. "The tree line is moving north quite rapidly," he said.

CAFF is backed by the Arctic Council, comprising the United States, Russia, Canada and the five Nordic nations.

Other experts say timber firms such as Stora Enso or Abitibi may not benefit from climate change. Better growth conditions may also bring more pests and forest fires.

Warming in the Arctic is happening about twice as fast as in the rest of the world. As reflective snow and ice recede, they expose soil or water which are a darker color and so soak up more of the sun's heat.   Continued...