Home Sciences The tundra has begun the path towards its total disappearance

The tundra has begun the path towards its total disappearance


Computer simulations have shown that only strong measures to preserve the climate will allow 30 percent of the Siberian tundra to survive until the middle of this millennium. In all other less favorable scenarios, this huge unique habitat is expected to disappear completely. The study, carried out by experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute, has just been published in the journal eLife.

The climate crisis can be felt especially in the Arctic: there, the average air temperature has risen by more than two degrees Celsius in the last 50 years, much more than anywhere else on Earth. And this trend will continue. If ambitious greenhouse gas reduction steps are taken, additional Arctic warming by the end of the century could be limited to just under 2 degrees.

According to model-based forecasts, if emissions remain high, we could see a drastic increase in average summer temperatures in the Arctic, up to 14 degrees Celsius above the current norm for 2100.

“For the Arctic Ocean and sea ice, current and future warming will have dire consequences,” Professor Ulrike Herzschuh, Head of the Division of Polar Terrestrial Environmental Systems at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Center for Polar Research, says in a statement. Navy (AWI).

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“But the terrestrial environment will also change dramatically. The vast expanses of tundra in Siberia and North America will be greatly reducedas the tree line, already slowly changing, will move rapidly northward in the near future.”

The tundra is home to a unique community of plants, approximately five percent of which are endemic, meaning they can only be found in the Arctic. Typical species include mountain oats, arctic poppies or willow and birch trees, all of which have adapted to the harsh local conditions: short summers and long, harsh winters. It also provides a home for rare species such as reindeer, lemmings, and insects such as the arctic bumblebee.

For its simulation, Ulrike Herzschuh and AWI modeler Stefan Kruse used the AWI LAVESI vegetation model. “What sets LAVESI apart is that it allows us to display the entire tree line at the level of individual trees,” explains Kruse.

“The model portrays the entire life cycle of Siberian larches in the transition zone to the tundra, from seed production and distribution to germination and fully grown trees. In this way, we can very realistically represent the advancement of the tree line in a warmer climate“, Explain.

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The findings speak for themselves: larch forests could be spreading north at a rate of up to 30 kilometers per decade. But expanses of tundra, unable to move to cooler regions due to the adjacent Arctic Ocean, would shrink further and further.

In most scenarios, by mid-millennium less than six percent of today’s tundra would remain; saving about 30 percent would only be possible with the help of ambitious greenhouse gas reduction measures.

On the contrary, Siberia’s 4,000-kilometre-long unbroken tundra belt would be reduced to two patches, separated by 2,500 kilometers, on the Taimyr Peninsula to the west and the Chukotka Peninsula to the east. Interestingly, even if the atmosphere were to cool again over the course of the millennium, the forests would not completely free up the former tundra areas.

Reference study: https://elifesciences.org/articles/75163

Environment section contact: crisisclimatica@prensaiberica.es

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