Lapland is irreversibly changing due to global warming | Polarjournal
Tundra and taiga landscapes, numerous lakes and birch and coniferous forests, cold winters (down to -40°C) lasting from mid-October until May. With global warming, however, the face of Lapland is expected to change in the coming decades, according to the Finnish Environment Institute. Image: Mirjana Binggeli

Lapland is warming, threatening species and causing rapid and partly irreversible environmental changes.

Melting palsas (permafrost mounds) and proper permafrost grounds, disappearing birch forests, endangered native animal species and the appearance of foreign species that will make life even more difficult for the former, later and milder winters, affected livelihoods for local populations. And a temperature rise of 4 to 5°C based on current climate measurements.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, all this is likely to happen in the course of a human lifespan.

This is the grim picture drawn up by the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke) in a press release published on September 29 on its website.

The institute based its analysis on data from the Tunturi region of Lapland in the north-west of the country, an area that is already two degrees warmer than in pre-industrial times. The analysis was carried out with the participation of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Metsähallitus Parks&Wildlife, Umeå University and other Nordic research and expert institutions and universities.

While Finnish Lapland recorded its hottest summer this year, changes in the natural environment in the North will be rapid and partly irreversible, according to Syke.

Palsas are small mounds typical of intermittent permafrost, also called mollisol, which freezes in winter and thaws in summer. They are mainly found in bogs. Their name, which comes from the Sámi word Palsa, refers to a raised area of ​​a bog with a core of ice. Image: Riku Lumiaro, Syke

Profound changes in the Finnish north

Biotopes will change and disappear as palsas and permafrost melt and birch forests will change to secondary mountain heaths and pine forests. The Arctic landscape is expected to green as open spaces are taken over by scrub and grasses.

Animal species native to and typical of these northern regions will be threatened and some could completely disappear. Currently, nearly 40% of species of the open fell species are already threatened.

At the same time, new species, such as pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), hogweeds (Heracleum mantegazzianum) and the fox are expected to spread and further threaten the survival of native species.

The waters in this lake region are also expected to change, becoming murkier and more sediment-laden, creating an ideal breeding ground for algae.

Winters will arrive later and be milder, adversely affecting many economic sectors important to the subsistence of local populations, such as reindeer herding, nature tourism and construction.

Not the question of “if” but rather of “how much”

A region that will continue to warm by a further 2 or 3°C over the next 50 years, even if most countries meet the emissions reduction targets set under the Paris Agreement, but without imposing stricter targets.

On the other hand, if nothing is done to control the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, an increase of 7°C threatens Lapland: “The rise in temperature could be limited to 3 to 4 degrees, however, if all countries introduced new, strict and comprehensive restrictions in energy production, transport, construction, food production and consumption.“, states Syke in its press release.

More than an analysis

The analysis was carried out as part of the exhibition Through the eyes of the gyrfalcon, the opening of which will take place on October 20 in Finland.

The exhibition Through the eyes of the gyrfalcon was created as part of the project set up by Syke “Mitigating the impacts of climate change on biodiversity in the Barents Region (BARIMS)”. The objective is to promote regional cooperation from the point of view of sustainability and safeguarding biodiversity in the Euro-Arctic and Barents Arctic region. Image: Screenshot exhibition website.

Scheduled to tour the country as well as Sweden and Norway between 2023 and 2026, the exhibition brings together for the first time comprehensive information on the impact of climate change in northern Norway and Finnish and Swedish Lapland, and shows how climate change will affect the environment, subsistence and the lives of local people.

Combining photography and scientific data, Through the eyes of the gyrfalcon describes the nature of the Barents region through the eyes of a young female gyrfalcon, whom the exhibition invites us to follow in her search for a place to breed. A quest that will take place in a radically changing environment. Irreversibly.

Link to the exhibition : https://barentsnature.fi/en/

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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