Austrian Academy of Sciences Joint Academy Day 2021 is on Thursday 13th March, and I’ll be part of a panel discussion led by John Smol, on Arctic and Alpine Environmental Change. The scope of the panel is described in this summery statement:
Both Arctic and alpine ecosystems have been referred to as the “miners’ canaries of the planet”, meaning that, due to a variety of positive feedback mechanisms, they are often the first to respond to climatic and other environmental changes, and to the greatest degree. Importantly, changes in polar regions affect ecosystems world-wide (e.g. ocean levels). Moreover, melting alpine glaciers result in striking economic, social, and environmental issues, as alpine regions act as “water towers”, supplying downstream populations with water for agriculture, industry, and drinking purposes. However, once the glaciers melt, the water tap is shut. Multiple anthropogenic stressors are rapidly changing these ecosystems, often outpacing our ability to collect data on baseline conditions. Despite the importance of these ecosystems, little long-term monitoring data are available.
In this session, we will explore the following broad questions:
- How have these sentinel ecosystems been affected by human-induced climatic and environmental changes?
- Are these changes reversible?
- What does the future hold?
- What are the ecological and social repercussions of these changes?
Here is a picture of the inimitable Professor John England when I was exploring whalebones on the raised shorelines of Prince Patrick Island with him and Dr Roy Coulthard in summer 2008. This was a fascinating trip, as Prince Patrick Island is the home to caribou, musk ox and foxes, as well as many birds and other smaller creates and the fragile land remains criss-crossed with tire tracks from oil exploration of the 1970s (we added some of our own unfortunately), and the former air base of Mold Bay stands abandoned in the landscape. So a curious combination of remote wilderness, and still the interactions and traces of human activities are unavoidable.