SYNOPTIC 2015 - Preparation notes on prerelease

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6GE03 June 2015
Section B Question 6 ­ Biodiversity Under Threat (Arctic)
The Arctic is a compulsory case study for the AS Unit 1 (impact of global climate change - GCC). Though
it is not an obvious choice for high biodiversity, it has huge areas of wilderness that are ecologically
important and in places has a high degree of endemism. It is considered to be hugely important as an
indicator of variable spatial impact of GCC and the enhanced warming of the high latitudes compared
to the mid and lower latitudes. Synoptic links: Energy, Development, Sustainability, Biodiversity,
Superpowers, Unit 1 (global climate change)
Analysis of resources
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Figure 1 shows the countries that have land within the Arctic Circle (defined as north of 66O 32'N). It is
interesting that all the countries are at a high level of development ­ MEDCs, many within the G20
The treeline is defined as the latitudinal or altitudinal limit to which trees can grow. Beyond this line, it
is too cold for trees to grow. In the case of the Arctic, the limit is determined by latitude and other local
factors. Significant land areas within the Arctic Circle are part of the permafrost belt (permanently
frozen ground) that is either continuous ,discontinuous or sporadic . Continuous in the north (where it is
colder) and becoming discontinuous moving southwards.
Boreal (coniferous) forest is a significant biome. NPP is markedly less than the temperate belt further
south. Water availability is a problem for plants and seasonality an important factor. There are some
relative `hotspots' such as central Siberia with over 2300 species of vascular plants. Beyond the tree
line, boreal forest ends and tundra is the main biome. The growing season is short here ­ as little as 2
months in places. Biodiversity is low but endemism important.
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Figure 3 shows the importance ecologically of the tundra. It may not have a large proportion of global
mammals, birds and insects or flowering plants but it is important for mosses and lichens. North of the
tundra is a cold desert and though this may seem remote, it has significant climate regulatory functions
(see below).
The seasonality of climate means that migration is an important aspect of ecology. Though the oceanic
waters are cold they are important for fisheries as the cold water is very productive due to its high
dissolved oxygen levels. Arctic waters are important spawning grounds for fish such as the cod, which is
a major source of protein Europe. Fish is being harvested beyond Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).
The Arctic region has important climatological functions, such as cooling the Earth by albedo and also
absorbing excess heat from the lower latitudes by convection. Huge amounts of frozen fresh water are
stored in the Greenland ice sheet and melting of this ice is correlated with rising eustatic sea levels.
Complete collapse of the Greenland ice cap would raise global sea levels by 7 metres. The permafrost
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C0 2 and methane. Outgassing of methane as the permafrost
warms is a concern as it is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Figure 5 summarises some key pints of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) which was
published in 2005. The polar latitudes are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation
(e.g. pollution). Overfishing seems an issue identified in the Polar Biologyarticle.
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In the north Atlantic, the cod catch has declined from a peak of 1.…read more

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III. Arctic Global Sanctuary ­ more akin to the International Antarctic Treaty in the southern
hemisphere (ratified in 1959 and renewed for another 50 years in 2009). The AGS would create
a Biosphere Reserve as suggested by Greenpeace at the 2012 Rio+20 Earth Summit ­ this would
leave the area untouched.
Such a treaty was not suggested hitherto as the Arctic was less isolated than the Antarctic, was
significantly populated and bordered directly the land of many powerful, developed countries.…read more

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Introduction of alien species
Noise and light pollution
Pollution threat ­ e.g.…read more

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A shortcomings of the AGS strategy is its sustainability. Does it provide long-term employment
and sustainability as suggested was required for successful environmental management in the
Brundtland Report `Our Common Future' (1987)?
(a) Explain why the Arctic Region has such a high biodiversity (10)
(b) Evaluate the relative importance of tourism and shipping as threats facing biodiversity in the region (15)
(c) Examine the ACIA key findings in Figure 8.…read more

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Marine and terrestrial ecosystems such as vast areas of lowland
tundra, wetlands, mountains, extensive shallow ocean shelves, millennia-old ice shelves and huge
seabird cliffs are characteristic to the Arctic. These are now at risk, according to the report
Climate change is by far the worst threat to Arctic biodiversity. Temperatures are expected to
increase more in the Arctic compared to the global average, resulting in severe disruptions to Arctic
biodiversity, some of which are already visible.…read more

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Tourism poses several other threats. Unsustainable levels of hunting and fishing, particularly illegal
poaching, are especially worrisome in Russia. Vehicle and foot traffic can damage fragile tundra
soils and vegetation. The Icelandic tourism industry, for example, promotes off-road driving in its
efforts to increase tourism. Garbage, waste, and pollution are significant problems for many
tourism operations, especially as decomposition is slow and waste remains visible atop the
permafrost in many Arctic areas.…read more


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