2MB field notes from Svalbard

View of bird cliff site at Templet mountain at Spitsbergen, Svalbard Lena Bakker, Sigrid Trier Kjaer and Jana Rüthers

2MB - that was the daily amount of data our original bloggers from the Antarctic were allowed to send us via satellite about their research on microplastics. Data transmission is also limited this summer for three other PhD students who are heading north to the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard to investigate Arctic greening, a process initiated by global warming and driven locally by soil chemistry, thickness and age.

This content was published on August 5, 2022

The Arctic is warming three to four timesExternal link faster than the global average. Summer temperatures above 20°C are no longer exceptional there. This has severe consequences for ecosystems that are home to highly specialised animals and plants. On Svalbard, there are polar bears, foxes, reindeer, breeding birds, as well as hundreds of types of mosses and lichens.

Left to right: Lena Bakker, Sigrid Trier Kjaer and Jana Rüthers

Rising temperatures are transforming that ecosystem. Some regions on Svalbard already experience a lusher vegetation due to an increase in native plant biomass or the invasion of tundra ecosystems by non-native plants from the mid latitudes. This process is called "Arctic greening”.

On Svalbard and other parts of the High Arctic, non-native plant species have already spread, especially in nutrient-enriched soils near human settlements. Over time, there could be dramatic shifts in the composition of Arctic plant and microbial communities, with non-native species outcompeting the local tundra species.

This summer, three PhD students from ETH ZurichExternal link travelled to Svalbard to investigate the ecological processes behind Arctic greening and what it means for nutrient cycles, plants and microbes. Lena Bakker, Sigrid Trier Kjaer and Jana Rüthers want to better understand how the already fragile Arctic ecosystems might change in the future.

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