Quirks and Quarks

Arctic Ponds - Shrinking and Disappearing

In northern Alaska climate change causes small ponds to be overgrown.
Constrasting ponds near Barrow, Alaska today and forty years ago (Christian Andresen, UTEP)
In many parts of the Arctic, the landscape is covered with thousands of small ponds - often not much more than a hectare in size. These ponds are refreshed every year by snowmelt, and are important habitat for plants, invertebrates and migrating waterfowl.

But new research on an area in the Barrow region of northern Alaska has revealed that these ponds have been disappearing at an alarming rate, due to an average warming of about 2°C in the region. 17% of the ponds have disappeared and, on average, those remaining are 30% smaller.

Canadian researcher Dr. Vanessa Lougheed, an associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Texas, El Paso, and her colleagues, have evidence that it's not simply loss of water that is causing the ponds to disappear. Melting permafrost under the ponds is releasing nutrients and causing new plant growth that encroaches on the ponds and eventually swallows them up.

Related Links

- Paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
- University of Texas, El Paso release
Grist magazine article