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Aug 23, 2013 03:24 PM EDT

Global Warming and Greening Effect in North American Arctic Changes Marine Food Chain and Vegetation

A decline in sea ice and a warming climate have is disrupting arctic vegetation and marine food chains, according to two University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) scientists.

Uma Bhatt, an associate professor at UAF Geophysical Institute, and Skip Walker, a professor at UAF Institute of Arctic Biology, co-authored a recent research review of various marine animals and plants' responses to warmer climates and less sea ice.

In the study, published in Science, the researchers reviewed ten years of data and previous work on the subject.

"Our thought was to see if sea ice decline contributed to greening of the tundra along the coastal areas," Bhatt said. "It's a relatively new idea."

The research showed the loss of ice and warming climate is altering the arctic marine food chain. Loss of sea ice means there is less sea ice algae, which sits at the bottom of the chain. The repercussions of the findings are not yet known.

The loss of sea ice also reduces pathways above the water for animal migration, but has also opened others for marine animals. Bhatt said the findings in this research review are an example of why different scientists should work together to better understand the arctic system.

Despite a general trend of warming climates and greening landscapes in the North American Arctic, areas in northern Russia, and along the Bering Sea, are showing signs of cooling.

"It's not a simple story here," Bhatt said. "I'm an atmospheric scientist and Skip (Walker) is a plant biologist. We have had many conversations to understand each other so we might better understand what's happening in the Arctic."

Walker, a plant biologist, said the greening is visible from space and allows vegetation to grow where it could not previously. Warmer soils, he said, are making it possible to grow new plants, which affects the food chain.

Bhatt, an atmospheric scientist, studied three decades' worth of remote sensing data to determine levels of sea ice, showing the warming trends.

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