The Effects of Climate Change on the Tundra

Climate change has caused numerous observable impacts on the environment.  The increased temperatures have had the greatest effect on areas that are generally cold, such as the tundra biome.  In Antarctica, the rate of the loss of ice mass from 1992 to 2006 has increased by 59% in West Antarctica, and increased by 140% in the Antarctic Peninsula (Rignot et al., 2008).  General impacts in tundra biomes include the decrease in height and size of deciduous shrubs and graminoids, a decrease in moss and lichen cover, and decreased species diversity.  This was caused by a 1-3°C increase in air temperatures, and the effects could be observed after only two years.

These changes in temperatures cannot be attributed to the Earth’s natural climate fluctuations alone.  Climate change has been primary caused by humans releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which trap more heat from the Sun, raising temperatures through a process called the greenhouse effect.  Other anthropomorphic impacts that have also contributed to climate change include pollution, urban expansion into natural areas, poor management practices, and rapid increases in human populations. 

If temperatures continue to rise, irreversible damage will be done to various ecosystems around the world.  Many species will be forced to relocate to more suitable conditions or face the risk of extinction, and biomes such as the tundra will lose more of their biodiversity.

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