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WRANGEL'S ISLAND GIVES NEW DISCOVERIES TO CLIMATE SCIENCE

10 august 2020
Climatologists found a host of evidence of a changing climate on Wrangel Island, Chukotka, Russia. The scientific expedition initiated a large-scale WWF-Russia project to study global climatic changes in the protected areas of the Russian Arctic.

Scientists spent almost three months on Wrangel Island. During this time, an impressive amount of data has been collected: changes in vegetation, soil, permafrost and water bodies were studied. At the same time, research was carried out on the snow cover and sea ice. Drones were used in the study, and sensor fields were installed in the key areas, which will allow collecting statistics on temperature changes throughout the year.

Scientific work `in the field`
Dmitry Dobrynin / WWF-Russia
“Wrangel Island is a truly unique area, the northernmost outpost in the East of the continent. It is influenced by both Arctic and continental air masses, and the impact of climate change on ecosystems is very well expressed, and therefore noticeable, - says Alexander Gruzdev, director of the Wrangel Island State Nature Reserve. "The reserve is a real natural laboratory, and we are always glad to new research on our territory."

The data obtained has yet to be analyzed, but scientists are already confidently saying that the changing climate is changing the entire face of the Arctic. It was possible to record a lot of evidence of this: the processes of heaving and solifluction violate the existing structure of the vegetation cover and soils, some plant species disappear, new ones appear in their place. So, for example, anomalous in density and area fields of butterbur up to half a kilometer in diameter were found where this plant had never been seen before.

Fields of butterbur
Dmitry Dobrynin / WWF-Russia

However, the task of scientists is somewhat broader than simply observing the ongoing changes in the nature of Wrangel Island. The main goal is to understand how climate change affects the nature of the entire Russian Arctic. The creation of a digital cartographic model should help in this. It is difficult to overestimate the role of the system of nature protected areas as a source of detailed systemic information on the state of all components of the Arctic ecosystems.

“WWF stands for the system of nature protected areas to develop in a new context, taking into account the needs of long-term adaptation to climate change. This requires us to stay at the forefront of scientific knowledge, since not everything is clear: what exactly, where and when we need to adapt. Moreover, we have to conduct our own research in the "hot" spots of concentration of rare species, in particular, on Wrangel Island. Without this, the complete picture cannot be made now,” says Alexey Kokorin, Director of the Climate and Energy Program at WWF-Russia. “That is why local observations of the microclimate and vegetation cover are very important, this is a necessary addition to the forecasts of regional influence of global climate change. Forecasts give only an average picture over a large area, but local effects must be imposed on it, then it is possible to fairly reliably judge the future development of events and take adaptation measures. "

Many reserves and national parks already conduct observations monitoring the impact of global changes on their territory, but the results of these work are difficult to generalize due to the lack of unifying principles for analyzing information, which does not allow seeing the whole picture. Here geo-information technologies come to the rescue, based on the analysis of satellite images. This is an important part of the research being carried out, which makes it possible to cover the entire Arctic region of Russia and receive both current and retrospective information on the state of the ecosystems of the Far North of our country.

“Our research on Wrangel Island is like looking through a keyhole, and satellite imagery allows us to see the full scale of the problem'”, explains Dmitry Dobrynin, chief specialist for Earth remote sensing at the Center for Marine Research at Moscow State University. “Moreover, the use of space monitoring will allow all natural protected areas to have a coordinated vision, that is, to look at the changes with one eye”.

While the analysis of the data obtained in Chukotka is underway, scientists are already planning new expeditions - similar studies this or next year should be carried out in the protected areas of Taimyr and the Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

For additional information please contact
Press officer of the Barents projectBarents sea ecoregional programme
Climate and Energy programme Director