Multi-decadal changes in tundra environments and ecosystems: Synthesis of the international Polar year-back to the future project (IPY-BTF)

Terry V. Callaghan, Craig Tweedie, Jonas Akerman, Christopher Andrews, Johan Bergstedt, Malcolm Butler, Torben Christensen, Dorothy Cooley, Ulrika Dahlberg, Ryan Danby, Fred Daniels, Johannes de Molenaar, Jan Dick, Christian Mortensen, Diane Ebert-May, Urban Emanuelsson, Hakan Eriksson, Henrik Hedenas, Greg H. Henry, David HikJohn Hobbie, Elin Jantze, Cornelia Jaspers, Cecilia Johansson, Margareta Johansson, David Johnson, Jill Johnstone, Christer Jonasson, Catherine Kennedy, Alice Kenney, Frida Keuper, Saewan Koh, Charles Krebs, Hugues Lantuit, Mark Lara, David Lin, Vanessa Lougheed, Jesper Madsen, Nadya Matveyeva, Daniel McEwen, Isla Myers-Smith, Yuriy Narozhniy, Hakan Olsson, Veijo Pohjola, Larry Price, Frank Riget, Sara Rundqvist, Anneli Sandstrom, Mikkel Tamstorf, Rik Van Bogaert, Sandra Villarreal, Patrick Webber, Valeriy Zemtsov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the responses of tundra systems to global change has global implications. Most tundra regions lack sustained environmental monitoring and one of the only ways to document multi-decadal change is to resample historic research sites. The International Polar Year (IPY) provided a unique opportunity for such research through the Back to the Future (BTF) project (IPY project #512). This article synthesizes the results from 13 papers within this Ambio Special Issue. Abiotic changes include glacial recession in the Altai Mountains, Russia; increased snow depth and hardness, permafrost warming, and increased growing season length in sub-arctic Sweden; drying of ponds in Greenland; increased nutrient availability in Alaskan tundra ponds, and warming at most locations studied. Biotic changes ranged from relatively minor plant community change at two sites in Greenland to moderate change in the Yukon, and to dramatic increases in shrub and tree density on Herschel Island, and in subarctic Sweden. The population of geese tripled at one site in northeast Greenland where biomass in non-grazed plots doubled. A model parameterized using results from a BTF study forecasts substantial declines in all snowbeds and increases in shrub tundra on Niwot Ridge, Colorado over the next century. In general, results support and provide improved capacities for validating experimental manipulation, remote sensing, and modeling studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)705-716
Number of pages12
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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