Last updated 2 December 2022

The biomass of plants in Svalbard varies from year to year, partly as a result of temperature fluctuations during the summer. Humidity, snow cover duration and grazing by animals also impact on the biomass. Plant biomass is a priority parameter in the Arctic Council’s Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program.

Reinrose på Svalbard
Foto: Stein Ø. Nilsen / Norsk Polarinsitutt

What is being monitored?


Biomass of vascular plants on Spitsbergen

The figure shows plant biomass in Adventdalen in relatively dry habitats (stony ridges with mountain-avens), in relatively moist habitats free from disturbance at the start of monitoring (moss tundra) and in habitats with disturbance primarily caused by grazing geese at the start (disturbed moss tundra). The biomass of all vascular plants is aggregated and specified as an average number of grams per square metre.
(Cite these data: Norwegian Polar Institute (2022). Biomass of vascular plants in Adventdalen. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL: http://mosj.no/en/https://mosj.no/en/indikator/flora/landbased-flora/biomasse-av-karplanter.html)


The figure shows plant biomass in Sassendalen in relatively dry habitats (stony ridges with mountain-avens), in relatively moist habitats free from disturbance at the start of monitoring (moss tundra) and in habitats with disturbance primarily caused by grazing geese at the start (disturbed moss tundra). The biomass of all vascular plants is aggregated and specified as an average number of grams per square metre.
(Cite these data: Norwegian Polar Institute (2022). Biomass of vascular plants in Sassendalen. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL: http://mosj.no/en/https://mosj.no/en/indikator/flora/landbased-flora/biomasse-av-karplanter.html)


The figure shows plant biomass on Brøggerhalvøya in relatively dry habitats (stony ridges with mountain-avens), in relatively moist habitats free from disturbance at the start of monitoring (moss tundra) and in habitats with disturbance primarily caused by grazing geese at the start (disturbed moss tundra). The biomass of all vascular plants is aggregated and specified as an average number of grams per square metre.
(Cite these data: Norwegian Polar Institute (2022). Biomass of vascular plants on Brøggerhalvøya. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL: http://mosj.no/en/https://mosj.no/en/indikator/flora/landbased-flora/biomasse-av-karplanter.html)

Details on these data

Last updated2 December 2022
Update intervalYearly
Next updateJune 2024
Commissioning organizationMinistry of Climate and Environment
Executive organizationNorwegian Polar Institute
Contact personsVirve Ravolainen
Jesper Mosbacher

Methode

Plant biomass is measured in the field using a non-destructive method known as ‘point frequency’. The measurements are taken every year between the second half of July and the first week of August. In each site, of which there are several in each monitoring area, there are eight squares of 0.5 x 0.5 m in which plant biomass is measured. The frequency of plants is estimated using an established correlation between point hits in the field and the actual weight of the plants. This is then converted to grams per square metre.

The selection of habitats and justification for the general methodology are based on a combination of importance for grazing animals during both the summer and winter, and because the vegetation in these habitats can be expected to be affected by climate change and respond relatively rapidly.

Other metadata

Data is stored in the Norwegian Polarinstitute database.

Reference level and action level

The limited number of measurement series with annual measurements of plant biomass from Svalbard presents a challenge as regards the determination of a reference level. Previously published time series indicates that plant biomass fluctuates considerably between individual years (van der Wal & Stien, 2014).

Status and trend

The time series for plant biomass is currently too short to calculate trends.

Causal factors

The causes of fluctuations and any trends in plant biomass include climatic conditions, such as summer temperature, precipitation and snow cover duration, and damage caused by ice on the ground in the winter and spring. Disturbance and grazing by reindeer (indicator reindeer) and geese are important factors as regards plant biomass quantities. The relationships between these causes and their relative importance are current research questions (Ravolainen et al., 2020).

Consequences

Plant biomass is important for grazing animals, which depend on the plants as food. This applies to Svalbard ptarmigan, Svalbard reindeer, barnacle geese, pink-footed geese and brent geese. Future changes in plant biomass may have consequences for the nutrient cycle and carbon storage. Plant biomass is a factor in most key relationships in the land-based food web and performs many functions with regard to soil.

About the monitoring

To understand the development of vegetation in Svalbard, we must build up a fundamental knowledge of the quantities of vascular plants, which this indicator measures. Plant biomass is important for the entire land-based food web. Vascular biomass is affected in different ways by climate (e.g. ground ice during the winter) and grazing animals (e.g. changes in reindeer or geese populations) in different habitats, and the indicator is therefore being measured in three different habitats. Disturbances of vegetation on the tundra are common, and plant biomass can be used to provide information on the impacts of these disturbances.

Climate change can affect plant biomass in different directions. Warmer summer temperatures can increase the biomass of vascular plants, but precipitation changes linked to periods of drought can reduce this impact, while increased precipitation can cause biomass to increase even more. During the winter, extreme weather events occur, including rain which freezes to form ground ice. This can damage plants and reduce their ability to produce biomass in summer. Grazing reindeer and geese can reduce biomass, but they also contribute fertilization and thus help to maintain biomass. The net impact of such effects is not known, which makes the monitoring of biomass important. A knowledge of variations and trends in vascular plant biomass will be important as a basis for drawing comparisons in the event of any impacts from other environmental changes in the future.

The monitoring of vascular plant biomass is being carried out as part of a programme where climate parameters (summer temperature, ground ice) and grazing animals (number of reindeer and geese) are also being monitored in the same areas, with measurements also being taken using remote sensing. The monitoring is being carried out as part of the Climate-Ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra (COAT), which facilitates analyses of plant biomass in the context of ecosystems.

Relations to other monitoring

Monitoring programme

International environmental agreements

  • None

Voluntary international cooperation

Related monitoring

  • None

Further reading

Links

  1. Climate-ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra – COAT

Publications

  1. Bråthen, K. A., and O. Hagberg. 2004. More efficient estimation of plant biomass. Journal of Vegetation Science 15:653-660.
  2. Christensen, T., J. Payne, M. Doyle, G. Ibarguchi, J. Taylor, N. M. Schmidt, M. Gill, M. Svoboda, M. Aronsson, C. Behe, C. Buddle, C. Cuyler, A. M. Fosaa, A. D. Fox, S. Heidmarsson, P. Krogh Henning, J. Madsen, D. McLennan, J. Nymand, C. Rosa, J. Salmela, R. Scuchman, M. Soloviev, and M. Wedege. 2013. The arctic terrestrial biodiversity monitoring plan. CAFF international secretariat, Akureyri, Iceland.
  3. Ravolainen, V., E. M. Soininen, I. S. Jonsdottir, I. Eischeid, M. Forchhammer, R. van der Wal, and A. O. Pedersen. 2020. High Arctic ecosystem states: Conceptual models of vegetation change to guide long-term monitoring and research. Ambio 49:666-677.
  4. Ravolainen 2020. Vegetation monitoring in Svalbard – implementation plan. Norwegian Polar Institute. Brief report 54.
  5. van der Wal, R., and A. Stien. 2014. High-arctic plants like it hot: a long-term investigation of between-year variability in plant biomass. Ecology 95:3414-3427.