Back to the Future

Project Description
Short Title: BTF
Proposal URL:

Polar environments are changing rapidly. Resulting impacts on terrestrial/freshwater ecosystems affect a) higher trophic levels and resources for Arctic residents, b) biodiversity in both polar regions and beyond due to the migration of many species, and c) land-atmosphere processes through changes in surface reflectivity and exchange of trace gases.
Polar lands are vast and diverse and the knowledge of geographical variation in recent ecosystem change is limited. Attribution of change is difficult because the primary drivers vary from site to site and between the poles: at some sites multiple drivers of change (e.g. climate, UV-B, contaminants, habitat fragmentation) operate concurrently.
Between 1964 and 1974, a network of IBP* Tundra Biome sites was established in both polar areas. Intensive investigations of primary production, production processes, decomposition, plant community structure and soil fauna were carried out together with studies of freshwater ecosystems. These sites and many of the original researchers represent a unique asset for detecting multidecadal environmental change. IPY provides timely opportunities for collating data on past changes, passing knowledge to new generations of researchers and documenting environmental characteristics of sites to facilitate detection and attribution of future changes at IBP sites and others, and on IBP topics in an interdisciplinary context.

1. To assess multidecadal past changes in the structure and function of Polar terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and environments in relation to diverse divers of change
2. To assess the current status of Polar ecosystems and their biodiversity
3. To permanently record precise locations of old sites in order to perpetuate platforms for a) the assessment of future changes in Polar ecosystems and their environments and b) sampling for Polar research and assessment programmes.

IBP sites in both polar regions will be re-visited, documented, and pinpointed with GPS. IBP Tundra Biome alpine and temperate upland sites will be included: comparison among such diverse, cold sites gave increased information on the environmental controls of ecosystem processes. The cold, temperate sites are now even more relevant as they represent analogues of future, warmer, polar sites. BTF will also include appropriate non-IBP polar and sub-polar sites. Investigations of primary production, production processes, decomposition, plant community structure and soil fauna will be repeated using original techniques. Additional measurements (biological and non-biological) will be made following meetings of the BTF group and representatives of linked projects (e.g. ITEX*, IPA*, TARANTELLA*) to maximise the efficiency of time in the field in often remote localities and to ensure cross-disciplinary connections.
BTF will include, or link to, remote sensing projects that will provide a larger geographical context (GOA*) and provide baseline information on vegetation structure from radar and laser remote sensing. The sites will provide validation for remote sensing and modelling communities. The network will also include other aspects of retrospective analysis of ecosystems (e.g. photographic records from the late 1960's) and populations (e.g. retrospective growth analyses) and provide sampling possibilities for various environmental assessments. The project will be implemented by younger researchers interacting with older generations. Data and metadata will be registered with the IPY Project COMAAR.