Climate Change Shifting Seasons: Birds and Bees Prematurely Active in Greenland

Not only are global temperatures on the rise, but climate change is shifting the seasons too. Researchers in Greenland have found that the birds and the bees in the Arctic are active a full two weeks earlier than they were just a decade ago.

Greenland has long been seen as an important canary in the coalmine when it comes to global warming. As the Earth's climate heats up, the ice sheet which covers the mega-island melts faster and faster. Already, according to scientists measuring the glacier's melting rates, Greenland sheds enough ice every day to supply New York City with water -- 30 times over.

But according to a new report in the scientific journal Current Biology, melt-water isn't the only clue Greenland provides the world when it comes to climate change. Scientists from Denmark's National Environmental Research Institute, affiliated with the University of Aarhus, have found that spring in Greenland now starts much earlier than it did just a decade ago with some plant, animal and insect species welcoming the warm season up to 30 days prematurely.

The team of biologists, led by Toke Hoye, spent 10 years monitoring the entire ecosystem near the Zackenberg Research Station, located well above the Arctic Circle in north-eastern Greenland. It is a region that is hit especially hard by climate change, with temperatures there rising at double the global average. Now, though, it has become clear just how species living in the region respond.

"At this time, we have already achieved an outstanding knowledge of not only the responses of plants and birds to climate change in the High Arctic, but also how an entire ecosystem responds to the changes," Hoye said in a statement posted on the Aarhus University Web site.

On average, Hoye's team found -- after analyzing the flowering dates of six plant species, emergence times for 12 species of insect, and egg-laying dates for three bird types -- that spring in the Zackenberg ecosystem has moved forward by an average of 14.5 days. By comparison, similar studies have found that plants in Europe bloom an average of two to three days early compared to a decade ago.

The Arctic has long been observed with concern, and earlier this spring, measurements from the Arctic island of Spitzbergen, which belongs to Norway, revealed springtime temperatures this year fully 13.5 degrees Celsius warmer than normal. Last winter, measurements on Greenland likewise showed an abnormally high rate of ice melting.

But Hoye's study is the first that shows the cumulative effects of warmer temperatures on an entire ecosystem. They observed two dozen different plant, animal and bird species and found that only two of them showed later than normal spring activity. All others showed an advancement.

The results, the study's authors write, shows that organisms living in the High Arctic react remarkably quickly to changes in the Earth's climate.

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