Climate change in the Barents region

“The Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from September 2013 confirms that the Arctic region will warm more rapidly than the global mean. This has wide-ranging impacts on environment, economy and living conditions in the northern regions”, says Ms. Henna Haapala, Counsellor at the Finnish Ministry of the Environment. 

Also the Barents region is affected by these changes. The Barents Euro‐Arctic Council is developing an Action Plan on Climate Change for further work on the challenges caused by the changing climate in the Barents region. More information about the Action Plan will be provided in Barents Profile article about Mr. Harald Dovland and in the next BarentSaga newsletter.

Changes are too rapid to allow all the species to adapt

BarentSaga asked Ms. Stéphanie C. Lefrère, Curator of the Natural History Department at the Provincial Museum of Lapland about the climate change in Barents region. Ms. Lefrère composed a temporary exhibition about the climate change in Lapland last May for the Provincial Museum of Lapland, in collaboration with several other research institutions.

What has changed in the nature in the Barents region, Ms. Stéphanie C. Lefrère, Curator of the Natural History Department at the Provincial Museum of Lapland? How the climate change can be perceived?
“In the Barents region, nature has become more vulnerable both because of anthropogenic activities and climate stressors. The snow conditions are changing and worsening in winter time for animals such as lemmings and reindeer. The formation of an ice crust during harsh winters prevents them from digging moss and lichen underneath, respectively. The snow cover is also decreasing more and more. Local plants and animals from the fells adapted to coldness and snow have started to decrease whereas the southern species extend their distribution northwards.”

What kind of impacts can the climate chance have for nature in the future; let’s say in 20 or 40 years, in the Barents region, if the present development continues? 

“The climatologists claim that in the worst scenario with high greenhouse gas emissions the temperatures will gradually increase up to 6 degrees by the end of the century. The snow cover is also expected to decrease. This will affect more the local species, which might become extinct if they cannot adapt, or move northwards and upwards. On the other hand, how could they extend their shift northwards as the Arctic Ocean is the natural barrier? The level of threat to those species is therefore quite high. For instance, some scenarios show that the distribution of species from the fells such as the rock ptarmigan will decrease by the year 2050. Furthermore southern species will expand more and more their distribution northwards. That is why it is essential to strengthen species and ecosystem conservation plans while reducing non-climate stressors in protected areas of the Barents region.”
Can these changes that are happening now, be compared with any known changes in the past climate? 

“From the evolutionary point of view, climate has always changed in the same way as the tectonic plates are drifting. It is a part of a natural and cyclical process. Mutations appear and species go extinct. However, carbon dioxide levels have never increased so rapidly on a short scale and their level is assumed to have never been so high in human history. Human is fully responsible for those changes since the industrial revolution and the increase in use of energy from fossil fuels.”

In your perspective, does climate change offer us in the Barents Region any positive changes/possibilities?

“In my perspective as a biologist, I think that changes are too rapid to allow species to adapt to changes on such a short scale if climate keeps on warming. Human can however certainly adapt but he is dependent on the natural resources. And if something goes wrong in the food chain, the whole system might get disrupted. I hope that the necessity to develop the strategies of adaptation to climate change will raise the awareness of people for environment protection. By saving more energy, using more renewable energy and recycling, we can counterbalance the negative effects of the current non-climate stressors, hence allowing the resilience of the ecoregion”, says Ms. Stéphanie C. Lefrère, Curator of the Natural History Department at the Provincial Museum of Lapland, Rovaniemi.

Climate change is high priority for BarentsObserver

Thomas Nilsen, the Editor of the open internet news service BarentsObserver, says that climate issue related articles are popular; especially articles from “on-site”.

“Climate change is a topic with high priority for BarentsObserver. For two reasons; it is a serious global problem that our readers pay attention to, and secondly because we report from the part of the world where climate change are likely most visible. The Arctic part of the Barents Region lives right now in a time where climate change seriously affect our daily life; for industry it means more drilling for oil and gas as the ice-cap melts away allowing more shipping in Arctic waters. From an environmental point of you; it means that the cod-stocks moves further north, the Polar bears can’t hunt for seals as before because the ice melts earlier in the season”, says Nilsen.

BarentsObserver tries to report from the field (Siberia, Svalbard and Barents Sea area) instead of writing only about scientific reports presented in Brussels, Copenhagen or Johannesburg.  

“In BarentsObserver, we have an own feed entitled “Climate Crisis” with link from our front page, so that everyone can easily find the list of interesting articles”, hints Nilsen.

Photo by Arto Vitikka

“Increased oceanic heat transport through the Barents Sea in the first decade of the 21st century and the AMO on longer timescales may also have played a role in determining sea ice anomalies in the Atlantic Arctic
(Dickson et al., 2000; Semenov, 2008; Zhang et al., 2008; Day et al., 2012).”
IPCC report 2013, FAQ 4.2: How is Sea Ice Changing in the Arctic and Antarctic?

Some links for more information:
Barents project: Climate Change and Biodiversity 

Project: Trilateral cooperation on Environmental Challenges in the Joint Border Area 

Project: Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems of Northwest Eurasia 

About Climate change and the Barents region on 

Working Group I Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policymakers 


About Climate change in Finland 


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