Rapid climate warming has resulted in shrub expansion, mainly of erect deciduous shrubs in the Low Arctic, but the more extreme, sparsely vegetated, cold and dry High Arctic is generally considered to remain resistant to such shrub expansion in the next decades. Dwarf shrub dendrochronology may reveal climatological causes of past changes in growth, but is hindered at many High Arctic sites by short and fragmented instrumental climate records. Moreover, only few High Arctic shrub chronologies cover the recent decade of substantial warming. This study investigated the climatic causes of growth variability of the evergreen dwarf shrub Cassiope tetragona between 1927 and 2012 in the northernmost polar desert at 83°N in North Greenland. We analysed climate-growth relationships over the period with available instrumental data (1950-2012) between a 102-year-long C. tetragona shoot length chronology and instrumental climate records from the three nearest meteorological stations, gridded climate data, and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and Arctic Oscillation (AO) indices. July extreme maximum temperatures (JulTemx ), as measured at Alert, Canada, June NAO, and previous October AO, together explained 41% of the observed variance in annual C. tetragona growth and likely represent in situ summer temperatures. JulTemx explained 27% and was reconstructed back to 1927. The reconstruction showed relatively high growing season temperatures in the early to mid-twentieth century, as well as warming in recent decades. The rapid growth increase in C. tetragona shrubs in response to recent High Arctic summer warming shows that recent and future warming might promote an expansion of this evergreen dwarf shrub, mainly through densification of existing shrub patches, at High Arctic sites with sufficient winter snow cover and ample water supply during summer from melting snow and ice as well as thawing permafrost, contrasting earlier notions of limited shrub growth sensitivity to summer warming in the High Arctic.
Growing season conditions are widely recognized as the main driver for tundra shrub radial growth, but the effects of winter warming and snow remain an open question. Here, we present a more than 100 years long Betula nana ring-width chronology from Disko Island in western Greenland that demonstrates a highly significant and positive growth response to both summer and winter air temperatures during the past century. The importance of winter temperatures for Betula nana growth is especially pronounced during the periods from 1910-1930 to 1990-2011 that were dominated by significant winter warming. To explain the strong winter importance on growth, we assessed the importance of different environmental factors using site-specific measurements from 1991 to 2011 of soil temperatures, sea ice coverage, precipitation and snow depths. The results show a strong positive growth response to the amount of thawing and growing degree-days as well as to winter and spring soil temperatures. In addition to these direct effects, a strong negative growth response to sea ice extent was identified, indicating a possible link between local sea ice conditions, local climate variations and Betula nana growth rates. Data also reveal a clear shift within the last 20 years from a period with thick snow depths (1991-1996) and a positive effect on Betula nana radial growth, to a period (1997-2011) with generally very shallow snow depths and no significant growth response towards snow. During this period, winter and spring soil temperatures have increased significantly suggesting that the most recent increase in Betula nana radial growth is primarily triggered by warmer winter and spring air temperatures causing earlier snowmelt that allows the soils to drain and warm quicker. The presented results may help to explain the recently observed 'greening of the Arctic' which may further accelerate in future years due to both direct and indirect effects of winter warming.