In June 2014, Gunara Nugamatsyamova from Kazan Federal University (Russia) discovered a 70-cm-tall and likely more than 20-year-old larch tree on Samoylov Island, very near the German-Russian research station of the same name. The bright-green Dahurian Larch (Larix gmelinii), which is typical of Siberia, seems to feel right at home, and its roots are already putting out new shoots. There’s just one catch: the larch was found in the Arctic tundra north of the treeline, where theoretically no trees should be able to grow.
In the course of their work, the researchers stationed on Samoylov Island observe the constantly changing local flora. But these changes are still small-scale and progress very slowly, making them undetectable to satellite imaging – a fact that didn’t stop Katja Abramova (Lena Delta Reserve near Tiksi, Russia) from finding a smaller (only 30-cm-“tall”) larch in 2013, though it lost its crown sometime last winter. Further, members of the Reserve staff and the local populace have begun regularly reporting a growing number of “invasive” alders to Station Engineer Günther Stoof from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI).
An initial explanation for this phenomenon is a shift of the treeline to the north as a result of the warming climate. The timberline runs along a parallel where the average temperature in the warmest summer month never tops 10 °C. Nevertheless individual trees can also be found farther north, in the “forest-tundra”, a transitional zone that can measure several hundred kilometres across. In order for trees to grow in this region, the preconditions are sufficient moisture and as long a warm period as possible; as such, not only the high-temperature values but also the duration of the seasons play an important part in climate change, one that merits further research.