Arctic Greening

Unraveling biogeochemical, microbial and vegetation feedbacks driving soil development and Arctic greening under a warming climate.

Climate warming is transforming the Arctic at an unprecedented rate. Previously barren landscapes are “greening” as a result of longer snow-free periods and increases in plant growth. Although the Arctic is warming almost everywhere, patterns of Arctic greening and changes in the Arctic biosphere are highly diverse. As Arctic landscapes continue to change, we need to understand the biological and physical-chemical feedbacks associated with the Arctic’s transition into this novel state. In this ETH+ project, we propose an interdisciplinary approach to develop a deeper understanding of the evolutionary, ecological and biogeochemical processes underlying Arctic greening. We postulate that the observed vegetation changes are not only tied to warming but to changes in the soil properties and soil microbial communities throughout the Arctic as well. To test this hypothesis, we will study the soils, plants, and microorganisms of the Svalbard Archipelago and Northern Norway to determine the underlying interactions between plants, soils and microbial communities across geoclimatic gradients. Novel experiments have been designed to assess the response of Arctic ecosystems to warming and predictions will be made to estimate the combined effect of warming and soil development on greening Arctic ecosystems. Our interdisciplinary approach will constitute a major step forward in the understanding of how soil-vegetation-microbial interactions will govern the pace and shape of Arctic greening and how warming will affect Arctic biodiversity and biogeochemical cycles.  

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