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Arctic Shrubs

September 28, 2005

The shrubs that thrive in the warmer arctic winters could have a big impact on the whole planet.


Trouble from shrubbery. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

As global temperatures rise, shrubs are cropping up on formerly pristine snowscapes in the Arctic. And those shrubs could make global warming even worse.

That’s according to Matthew Sturm, of the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Fairbanks, Alaska. He explains that dark-colored, shrubby terrain absorbs more of the Sun’s heat than snow-white tundra –- up to 70 percent more over the long Arctic winter.

That’s worrisome because the Earth normally lets off much of its excess heat through the chilly polar regions.

MATTHEW STURM (U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory):
We’re not getting rid of as much heat, and that contributes to global warming, not just Arctic warming.

He adds that because the shrubs themselves thrive in warmer temperatures, they could become a growing cause and effect of global climate change. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the Science Society.