KINGSTON, Ont. -- High Arctic ponds -- the most common source of surface water in many polar regions -- are now beginning to evaporate due to recent climate warming, say two of Canadas leading environmental scientists.
John Smol (Professor of Biology at Queens University and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change) and Marianne Douglas (Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Director of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute at the University of Alberta) will publish their startling conclusions next week in the on-line Early Edition of the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The final ecological threshold for an aquatic ecosystem is loss of water, says Dr. Smol. These sites have now crossed that threshold.
Since 1983, Drs. Smol and Douglas have been regularly sampling the water quality and biota of about 40 ponds on Cape Herschel, east-central Ellesmere Island, in the Canadian High Arctic. Polar ecosystems such as these are very sensitive to the effects of climatic and other environmental changes, they note in their paper. In many respects, they are like the miners canaries of the planet, showing the first signs of warming.
But this new discovery by the Canadian researchers has surprised even them. In the 1990s they were alarmed when they began to recognize a trend of declining water levels and changes in water chemistry. When they arrived to begin another field season in July of 2006 (the warmest year on record for that portion of the Arctic), some of the ponds were dry, and others had dramatically reduced water levels.
This study shows the value of long-term monitoring programs, says Dr. Douglas. Had we just arrived at Cape Herschel last year, we would have surmised that these were naturally temporary ponds. But we know instead that this was not the case these had been permanent water bodies for millennia.