Follow along with a Research Station scientist studying climate change and lakes in Greenland

August 12: “Landed in Kanger this morning and then straight up the ridge to check the instruments that have been monitoring dust blowing off the sander for the last year. Still running! #DustyLakes

Research Station staff scientist Dr. Adam Heathcote is currently in southwestern Greenland as part of an international research expedition. He is tweeting about science, tundra, climate change, and more while he’s on the island.

The trip is his second field campaign to Greenland, part of a project examining how some of the most pristine lakes in the world are changing in the face of rapid climate change. Professor John Anderson from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom is the project’s principal investigator.

The research team is spending two weeks hiking across the tundra and collecting water, sediment, and other samples from rarely-visited lakes with unique ecological features.

As a result of earlier work, members of the team recently published a new peer-reviewed article in the journal Environmental Research Letters about the speed at which Greenland’s ecosystem is changing due to global warming.

“We’re seeing environmental responses much more quickly than we might have expected,” said lead author Jasmine Saros, a lake ecologist and associate director of the University of Maine Climate Change Institute. “What it means is that the system is very sensitive to climate. It responds quickly when the temperatures go up.”

Not only has Greenland experienced some of the most extreme climate change on Earth in the past two decades, extensive scientific monitoring and research has been conducted at the same time. This has provided unique opportunities to study how climate change happens, and what its effects are.

Heathcote is focused on the impact of airborne dust on the nascent lakes of the post-glacial landscape. When glaciers and ice sheets melt, huge plains of sediment are deposited by meltwater. These outwash plains, or “sandurs,” are loose and often subjected to strong winds.

Wind can carry considerable quantities of nutrients into the lakes, a process which has implications for other parts of the world, as well as the future of our planet’s changing climate.

Nutrients in lakes usually get there by running off the surrounding landscape, but these lakes have small, nearly barren watersheds at the foot of the ice. They can be easily affected if nutrients come through the air.

“As the Greenland glaciers melt, increased discharge and newly exposed terrain is redistributing dust-bound nutrients, which could potentially fertilize these lakes, leading to major ecosystem changes,” Heathcote says. “It is critical to have scientists on the ground in these remote environments documenting these changes as they happen.”

Follow Heathcote and his colleagues’ adventures and observations as they tweet live from Greenland, using the #DustyLakes hashtag.

Here are a few of his tweets from the past week:

Reference:

Arctic climate shifts drive rapid ecosystem responses across the West Greenland landscape, Jasmine E Saros et al 2019 Environ. Res. Lett. 14 074027

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