The name Greenland, which literally means a green country, was invented by the Vikings, in hope of attracting settlers. Recently, however the island warmed up significantly and soon enough it can really become an evergreen taiga.
We mostly associate Greenland with the cold. Indeed, it is not the warmest place in the world. If it were, there would be no place in it for the enormous ice sheet. In its highest place called the Summit Station, the temperatures in winter regularly drop below -50 degree Celsius, and sometimes they can even drop below another 10 degrees. However, not the whole of Greenland is this cold. Its southern outskirt - more or less on the same latitude as Oslo - is not that very far to the north from us.
In this part of the island, warm gusts of air are much more common. Especially in recent decades. According to scientists, since 1980 the temperature in the south of Greenland raised over 4 degrees Celsius in the summer and over 10 degrees in winter.
The last winter was especially warm. The temperatures were higher than the 5-6 degrees standard. In the popular among tourists Narsarsuaq village where there is an international airport (former US Air Force base) with the meteorological station, in January and February the temperatures were at most a few degrees below zero, while in March, when we experienced biting colds, they noted 8-12 degrees Celsius. A similar weather was in Qaqortoq, the main city of the southern region of the island numbering 3,000 inhabitants. And it is us who are supposed to be in the temperate climate and Greenland in the polar climate – not the other way around.
What is responsible for this raise in temperatures? Oceanographers and climatologists point to the rising temperatures in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. From the begging of the 20th century they raised by ca. 1.5 degree, which is two times more than on a global scale. This part of the ocean makes a flash forward to the climate change on the Earth. It anticipates and accelerates the change by pumping additional heat into Africa. Southern outskirts of Greenland are parting with the cold at a high speed.
There are sparse trees and groves near Narsarsuaq. At this rate, a forest will once more appear here, just like over a thousand years ago when the first Vikings settled on the island. How fast can this happen? According to the observations made by the international research team, lead by Jens-Christian Svenning, a biology professor of the Aarhus University in Denmark, instantly if man will aid the plants. The results of the research were published in "Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B” by the end of August.
The warmth on Greenland is already leaving its mark. In many places where the ground was deeply frozen it is currently thawing, and the day when the pollen from threes and hedges will give plentiful fruit is near. Then Greenland will stop being a land of woodless deserts and will start to resemble the parts of Alaska or western Canada covered in taiga, although - as stressed by Svenning - the species composition of Greenland’s forests will be slightly different.
Currently, there are only few species of trees and large bushes in natural state on Greenland. They cover only a few parts of the land. Few other species including, the Siberian larch, Canadian spruce and Lodgepole pine are cultivated thanks to artificial plantings. Svenning predicts that this group of arborescent pioneers will begin the conquest of the southern part of the island in the nearest decades.
Who will follow them? The scientists looked at the regional climate models for North America to verify which out of the 44 of European and North American tree species which are cold resistant would manage on a much warmer Greenland in a hundred years. Almost all of them proved so. The areas located the most to the north were covered by such immune specimen as dwarf birch. Other species, as the aforementioned Lodgepole pine or the majestic, reaching 80 m in height, Sitka spruce would create a thick forest in the south.
All this will happen, on the condition that man will aid the trees. Because of the isolation of the island and its differentiated coastline, the trees will not manage to reach all the places with a climate favourable for them during just hundred years. Svenning estimates that for some of the species such a journey would take even 2 thousand years. The tourists who are more frequently visiting Greenland can help. A few years ago, scientists found at Spitsbergen on the soles of the shoes of 259 visitors over 1,019 samples of pollen of 53 species, including such which would survive in warmer parts of the Arctic. However, the taiga would grow the fastest thanks to mass planting. Sevenning warns, however, that the planting should be conducted extremely carefully, so as not to cause any chaos in the virgin environment. With the help of man or without it the expansion of trees will cause enormous changes to Greenland’s natural world, with damage for the current plants and animals – emphasizes the scientist.