Unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically decreased, the Siberian tundra may vanish by 2500.
Even under the best-case circumstances, experts recently predicted that two-thirds of this environment - distinguished by its short growing season and cover of grasses, moss, shrubs, and lichens - could vanish, leaving two parts separated by 1,553 miles (2,500 kilometers).
As the tundra's permafrost melts, massive amounts of stored greenhouse gases could be released into the atmosphere, potentially speeding up global warming.
"This was stunning for us to see how quickly the tundra will be turned over to forest," said ecologist and forest modeler Stefan Kruse of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany.
The loss of the tundra will not only be detrimental to biodiversity and human civilization, but it may also accelerate Arctic warming, according to Kruse.
Warming in the Arctic has been twice as rapid as warming everywhere in the world in recent decades. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, air temperatures in the Arctic region grew roughly 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) between 1960 and 2019. (NSIDC). This heat has reduced sea ice cover and is harming land in the Arctic. One of these consequences is the northward migration of Siberian larch forests.
It's unclear how quickly these forests will supplant the grassland, shrubby tundra habitat. Treeline variations in reaction to climate change aren't uniform over the world, according to Kruse. Treelines have pushed northward in certain locations. They've remained stagnant in some cases and even retreated in others.
Previous research on the Siberian tundra has concentrated on tiny areas, yet there is a great deal of variation between locations.
The researchers discovered that once trees begin migrating northward in reaction to warming, they do so swiftly and are unlikely to retreat if temperatures decrease. Only 32.7% of today's tundra would be left by 2500 if carbon emissions are reduced to zero by 2100 and global temperature change is kept below 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C).
This percentage would be separated into two mini-tundras, one in Chukotka and the other on the Taymyr Peninsula in the extreme north.
The findings provide compelling grounds to advocate for aggressive reductions in fossil fuel emissions. According to Kruse, the model utilized in the study can also be used to determine the most robust areas of the Siberian tundra. Conservation investments could be targeted in these resilient places.