Spring has been popping up earlier in many areas of the world in recent years, and although this might sound quite pleasant, it’s actually a worrying result of climate change. And the further north you go, the worse it gets, with the Arctic, and its many unique inhabitants, experiencing the greatest change.
According to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, the Arctic spring is occurring 16 days earlier than it did 10 years ago. In fact, the research suggests that for every 10 degrees north of the equator you go, spring comes an average of four days earlier. That means that those in Los Angeles will likely experience spring just a day earlier than a decade ago, while those in Chicago or Washington DC will see it arrive about four days early.
Using clues from the creatures that dwell in Arctic climes, the researchers looked at the timings of a variety of biological phenomena, from when flowers bloom and leaves emerge to when amphibians begin vocalizing and migratory birds arrive. In total, they looked at 743 previous studies, combining the data with temperature records.
The significant change in the arrival time of Arctic spring compared to that of other latitudes highlights just how rapidly the North Pole has been hit by climate change. Just recently, Europe unexpectedly became smothered in ice and snow, and scientists think this is likely due to freak warming further north.
Warming temperatures in the Arctic can lead to a range of issues, from a melting ice sheet and reduced sea ice to less snow and more rain. These changes cause problems for wildlife like walruses and polar bears that require sea ice to hunt.
Meanwhile, spring occurring 16 days early not only affects temperature, it could also have a detrimental effect on species that rely on seasonal cues. According to the new research, migratory birds could be particularly at risk. These seasoned travelers fly vast distances from the tropics to the Arctic in order to breed, but an earlier spring could spell trouble for them.
“Whatever cues they’re relying on to move northward for spring might not be reliable predictors of food availability once they get there if the onset of spring at these higher latitudes is amplified by future warming,” said lead study author Eric Post in a statement. “The springtime emergence of the plants and insects they’ll eat when they arrive is happening faster than the changes at the lower latitudes those birds are departing from.”
It is unclear exactly how changing seasons will affect the Arctic’s plant and animal life, but it may well disrupt the carefully balanced ecosystems and complex migratory patterns that evolution took so long to perfect.