The unique vegetation of the Arctic tundra could disappear by the year 2050 if no substantial reduction in global warming is achieved, scientists have warned.
Experts from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), Center for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven in northern Germany have studied the impact of Siberian Larch Forests’ constant northward growth.
Their computer simulation shows that their rapid expansion is a great threat to the tundra’s exceptional vegetation composed of dwarf shrubs, grasses, mosses and lichens.
Around 5 percent of the tundra’s vegetation can only be found in the Arctic.
The tundra is also home to rare species like reindeer, snow owls, polar bears, and lemmings.
Professor Ulrike Herzschuh heads the AWI’s Polar Terrestrial Environmental Systems Division. She stated that the Arctic Ocean’s current and future climate change will be devastating for the Arctic Ocean, sea ice and other marine ecosystems.
“But the environment on land will also change drastically.”
The broad expanses of tundra in Siberia and North America will be massively reduced as the treeline, which is already slowly changing, rapidly advances northward in the near future.
The scientist warned: “In the worst-case scenario, there will be virtually no tundra left by the middle of the millennium.”
Herzschuh explained: “In our study, we simulated this process for the tundra in northeast Russia.
“The central question that concerned us was: which emissions path does humanity have to follow in order to preserve the tundra as a refuge for flora and fauna?”
Herzschuh and her team warn that only consistent, global climate protection measures will allow around 30 percent of the Siberian tundra to survive to mid-millennium. According to scientists, the habitat could disappear completely if it is subjected to other less favorable climates.
The scientists at the AWI said that the average temperature had shot up by more than 2degC (35. 6degF) in the High North during the past 50 years. This was an increase that is greater than any other place on Earth, they said.
Their computer simulation showed that larch forests were currently spreading northward at a rate of up to 20 miles per decade.
By the year 2050, just less than 6 percent of today’s tundra would remain in the majority of the AWI experts’ scenarios. However, highly effective global initiatives would be needed to rescue 30 percent.
The tundra covers an area of around 4,464,600 square miles. Its soil is high in nitrogen andphosphorous. It also has large quantities of methane, carbon dioxide, and biomass. Tundra soil is a carbon sink.
As the climate change accelerates the thawing of soil, the permafrost carbon cycle accelerates and releases much of these soil-contained greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, creating a feedback cycle that increases climate change.
Eva Klebelsberg is a World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Germany project manager. She stated that it was a matter-of-life and death for the Siberian Tundra.
” Larger areas cannot be protected without very high climate protection goals. And even then, in the best case there will ultimately be two discrete refuges, with smaller flora and fauna populations that are highly vulnerable to disrupting influences.”
Klebelsberg warned: “If we continue with business as usual, this ecosystem will gradually disappear.”
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.
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