THEY are the frozen wastelands of the planet’s northern extremes but are vital for the health of the rest of the world.

Now Scottish scientists are using new research techniques in a bid to tackle the most visible impact of climate change – the so-called greening of Arctic regions.

The latest drone and satellite technology is helping Edinburgh University researchers to better understand how the vast, treeless regions called the tundra is becoming greener.

As Arctic summer temperatures warm, vegetation is responding as snow is melting earlier and plants are coming into leaf sooner in spring. Tundra vegetation is spreading into new areas and where plants were already growing, they are now growing taller.

Understanding how data captured from the air compare with observations made on the ground will help to build the clearest picture yet of how the northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America are changing as the temperature rises.

Researchers from Europe and North America are finding that the Arctic greening observed from space is caused by more than just the responses of tundra plants to warming on the ground.

Tundra plants act as a barrier between the warming atmosphere and huge stocks of carbon stored in frozen ground.

Changes in vegetation alter the balance between the amount of carbon captured and its release into the atmosphere.

Small variations could significantly impact efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees centigrade – a key target of the Paris Agreement.

The study will help scientists to figure out which factors will speed up or slow down warming.

Meanwhile Edinburgh University scientists have also discovered  that the Milky Way is being pulled apart by another galaxy.

Its being twisted and deformed with “extreme violence” through the gravitational force of a smaller city of stars.

The discovery turns on its head the long-held belief the Milky Way is relatively static, say the Scots-based team. It’s being re-shaped by the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) – some 168,000 light-years from Earth.

Lead author Dr Michael Petersen, of Edinburgh University, said: “Our findings beg for a new generation of Milky Way models – to describe the evolution of our galaxy.”

They have implications for the spiral shaped disc of stars and planets – including Earth and the solar system.

Dr Petersen and colleagues showed the LMC crossed the Milky Way’s boundary around 700 million years ago – recent by cosmological standards.

Due to its large dark matter content it strongly upset its fabric and motion as it fell in. This is the mysterious “glue” that holds galaxies together.

The effects are still being witnessed today – and should force a revision of the birth of the Milky Way.

The LMC – now a “satellite galaxy” – is visible as a faint cloud in the southern hemisphere’s night skies.

Previous research has revealed the LMC – like the Milky Way – is surrounded by a halo of dark matter.

The team used a sophisticated statistical model that calculated the speed of the Milky Way’s most distant stars.

The researchers revealed the enormous attraction of the LMC’s dark matter halo is pulling the Milky Way disc at 71,600mph – or 20 miles a second.

It is being twisted in the opposite direction towards the constellation Pegasus – in the northern sky.

To their surprise the Milky Way was not moving in the direction of the LMC’s current location as previously thought – but a point in its past trajectory.

This is because the LMC – powered by its massive gravitational force – is floating away at the even faster speed of 800,000 mph, or 230 miles a second.

The astronomers now plan to find out the direction from which the LMC first fell in – and the exact time it happened.