Extreme Arctic Snowfall in 2018 Wiped Out Animal & Plant Breeding

(CN) – Extreme weather in the Arctic in 2018 brought huge amounts of snow that melted slowly and resulted in the reproductive failure of the region’s plants and animals, according to a new study.

The Zackenberg Research Station in northeast Greenland. (Kristian Hassel / NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet)

The study, published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology, was 20 years in the making. Researchers extensively studied the ecosystem at Zackenberg in northeast Greenland, allowing them to compare the extreme weather in 2018 to more normal conditions.

On average, temperatures in Greenland can range from 55 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer to minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Life in this region has consequently become highly adapted to survive these harsh conditions. Recent climate change events, however, have brought warmer temperatures, melting ice and significantly less snow cover, making this already formidable environment more difficult to thrive in.

Global climate change also increases the risk of more extreme weather events, as seen around the world in the form of hurricanes and blizzards. Researchers stress that little to nothing is known about the impact of extreme weather events and climate variation on this Arctic region.

This extreme snowfall event in 2018 resulted in the worst breeding year ever seen in Zackenberg. Very few plants and animals were able to reproduce due to the large amount of late-melting snow.

While non-breeding years are not uncommon in this region, lead author Niels Martin Schmidt of Aarhus University in Denmark said the reproductive failure in 2018 is a cause for concern.

“The worrying perspective is that 2018 may offer a peep into the future, where increased climatic variability may push the Arctic species to – and potentially beyond – their limits,” Schmidt said. “Our study shows that climate change is more than ‘just’ warming, and that ecosystems may be hard hit by currently still rare but extreme events.

“What it also brings out is the unparalleled value of long-term observations of the Arctic,” Schmidt continued. “Only by keeping an eye on full Arctic ecosystems can we understand the havoc brought by the changing climate.”

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