Vegetation Phenology - Habitat Dynamics

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Vegetation Phenology

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Animation shows the change from year to year of vegetation, snow cover and sea ice.

Vegetation greenness, snow cover, and sea ice distribution in early June varies widely across the Arctic, and between years.  In the high northern latitudes, snow melt and vegetation green-up typically occur in late May and early June, however, as illustrated in the animation, spring sometimes arrives much earlier than average, and sometimes much later.  Sea ice extent during early June is also shown with color-shades to indicate when the surface began to melt: white=still frozen, cyan=melt beginning, and lavender=melt started prior to June 1.
(Credit: David Douglas, USGS. Public domain.)

Annual variations in the timing of snow melt and green-up influence the availability and quality of habitats for wildlife, especially grazing animals such as caribou and geese that are critically invested in reproduction during June.  Concerns arise about the potential for climate warming to cause ecological mismatches if animals are unable to adjust their migration and reproductive schedules to keep pace with changes in the peak availability of food resources.  These and related topics of research are part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative.

Atmospheric circulation patterns strongly influence the timing of snow melt and vegetation green-up

Atmospheric circulation patterns strongly influence the timing of snow melt and vegetation green-up.  At Barrow/Utqiaġvik, Alaska, years with late snow melt are associated with a blocking high-pressure system over the Arctic basin and low-pressure over the eastern Bering Sea which tends to block the flow (transport) of warm southerly air into the higher latitudes (left panel, below).  In contrast, years with early snow melt are associated with a low-pressure system over the western Bering Sea and a high-pressure ridge over eastern Alaska which tends to facilitate the northerly transport (flow) of warm southerly air (right panel). Source of this figure is: Stone, R. S., D. C. Douglas, G. I. Belchansky, and S. D. Drobot. 2005. Polar Climate: Arctic sea ice. Pages 39-41 in D. H. Levinson, (ed.). State of the Climate in 2004. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 86(6), 86 p. doi:10.1175/1520-0477-86.6s.1
(Public domain.)

Key Findings

The timing of vegetation green-up in the Arctic, coupled with the timing of reproduction, is correlated with the survival of caribou calves and goose goslings.

Brook, R. W., J. O. Leafloor, K. F. Abraham, and D. C. Douglas. 2015. Density dependence and phenological mismatch: consequences for growth and survival of sub-arctic nesting Canada Geese. Avian Conservation and Ecology 10(1):1. doi:10.5751/ACE-00708-100101

Stone, R. S., D. C. Douglas, G. I. Belchansky, and S. D. Drobot. 2005a. Polar Climate: Arctic sea ice. Pages 39-41 in D. H. Levinson, (ed.). State of the Climate in 2004. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society [Full Publication]

Stone, R. S., D. C. Douglas, G. I. Belchansky, and S. D. Drobot. 2005b. Correlated declines in Pacific arctic snow and sea ice cover. Arctic Research of the United States 19(1):18-25. [Full Publication]

Griffith, B., D. C. Douglas, N. E. Walsh, D. D. Young, Jr., T. R. McCabe, D. E. Russell, R. G. White, R. D. Cameron, and K. R. Whitten. 2002. The Porcupine caribou herd. Pages 8-37 in D. C. Douglas, P. E. Reynolds, and E. B. Rhode, (eds.). Arctic Refuge coastal plain terrestrial wildlife research summaries. USGS Biological Science Report USGS/BRD/BSR-2002-0001 [Full Publication]