Ecological and conceptual consequences of Arctic pollution

Ecol Lett. 2020 Dec;23(12):1827-1837. doi: 10.1111/ele.13611. Epub 2020 Sep 25.


Although the effect of pollution on forest health and decline received much attention in the 1980s, it has not been considered to explain the 'Divergence Problem' in dendroclimatology; a decoupling of tree growth from rising air temperatures since the 1970s. Here we use physical and biogeochemical measurements of hundreds of living and dead conifers to reconstruct the impact of heavy industrialisation around Norilsk in northern Siberia. Moreover, we develop a forward model with surface irradiance forcing to quantify long-distance effects of anthropogenic emissions on the functioning and productivity of Siberia's taiga. Downwind from the world's most polluted Arctic region, tree mortality rates of up to 100% have destroyed 24,000 km2 boreal forest since the 1960s, coincident with dramatic increases in atmospheric sulphur, copper, and nickel concentrations. In addition to regional ecosystem devastation, we demonstrate how 'Arctic Dimming' can explain the circumpolar 'Divergence Problem', and discuss implications on the terrestrial carbon cycle.

Keywords: Arctic Dimming; Divergence Problem; Norilsk Disaster; Russia; Siberia; boreal forest; industrial pollution; tree rings.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Arctic Regions
  • Ecosystem*
  • Forests
  • Taiga*
  • Trees