While most of us have yet to sense the extent of global warming's immediate and more long-term effects on the planet's physical geography, others - mostly in the northern regions of the world - have not been so fortunate. The record amount of sea ice lost in the Arctic Ocean over the past half-century has caused entire landscapes in Alaska and Canada to change dramatically - sometimes on a daily basis.
Nome, which lies on the Bering Sea, was once too cold for trees to grow. Now, as a consequence of the positive feedback loop that has resulted in the region's gradual warming and loss of ice, it is not uncommon to see an influx of new plant and animal species every year.
"There are trees and lawns in Nome now. I never thought I'd see trees growing on the tundra. Beavers are overrunning the area now that there is food for them. They are even in Barrow, north of the Arctic Circle," said Patricia Cochran, the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.
On Melville Island, located in Canada's northwest Arctic region, scientists have witnessed large hillsides let go and simply slide off into valleys or rivers. "The entire landscape is on the move, it was very difficult to find any slopes that were unaltered. Every day it looked different. This is a permanent change," said Scott Lamoureux, a professor at Queens University and the head of one of the International Polar Year projects.
The drastic temperature rises in the area have led to huge amounts of freshwater and sediments being discharged into nearby lakes and rivers. Lamoureux has no doubt that these changes will exert significant effects on the island's ecosystem - not to mention the diverse array of species that call it home.
As Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria, noted, the Arctic sea ice's "decline is nothing short of stunning" and will likely "wreak absolute havoc on Arctic ecosystems." It may already be too late.
Via ::Inter Press Service: CLIMATE CHANGE: Entire Landscapes on the Move (news website)