Siberian Tundra Could Virtually Disappear Due To Rising Global Temperatures, Says Study

Global warming poses an existential threat to the Siberian tundra, the frozen lands near the Arctic Circle, The researchers said in a new study. Researchers from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research have created a computer simulation of how global warming will affect the tundra – a special ecosystem made up of dwarf shrubs, sediments, grasses, algae and lichens. They said the tundra could virtually disappear by the middle of the millennium if temperatures continue to grow rapidly. In a best-case scenario, they said, only 30 percent of today’s tundra could be saved. This is bound to have dire consequences for the planet.

Tundra soils are rich in nitrogen and phosphorous and contain large amounts of biomass stored as methane in permafrost, which becomes the planet’s carbon sink. But global warming is leading to a rapid rise in Arctic temperatures. As a result, the tree line of Siberian pine forests is steadily advancing to the north, conquering the biodiversity of the tundra. If the tundra disappears in the coming decades, so will the planet’s massive carbon sink.

Only consistent climate protection measures will allow about 30 percent of the Siberian tundra to survive into the mid-millennium, the researchers said. In all other less favorable scenarios, the unique habitat is likely to disappear entirely. They published their findings in the journal eLife.

“For the Arctic Ocean and sea ice, current and future warming will have dire consequences,” said Professor Ulrik Herzschuh, one of the study’s authors. “In a worst-case scenario, there will be virtually no plains tundra by the middle of the millennium.”

To simulate them, Professor Hirschschuh and AWI designer Dr Stefan Kruse used the AWI LAVESI vegetation model, which Dr Krusai said can “very realistically” depict an advanced tree line in a warm climate.

The researchers found that pine forests could spread northward at a rate of up to 30 kilometers per decade, and that tundra habitat, which could not move to cooler regions due to the neighboring Arctic Ocean, would increasingly decline. In the majority of the scenarios the researchers simulated, they find that only 6 percent of today’s tundra will remain by the middle of the millennium. If we applied strict measures to reduce greenhouse gases, nearly 30 percent could be saved.

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