Siberian tundra could soon disappear, scientists warn

Placeholder while loading article actions

What comes to mind when you think of Siberia?

If you associate vast tundra with Russia’s huge northeastern region, you’re not alone. Over nearly 2,500 miles of unbroken wilderness, the arctic tundra is a unique and surprisingly abundant ecosystem.

But that could change if man-made global warming goes unchecked, the researchers warn. And if the world doesn’t take consistent action to protect the climate, they write, the tundra could disappear altogether.

Global warming has profoundly changed the Arctic in just 15 years, report warns

The dire prediction is reported in a study published in eLife that simulates how a changing climate would affect the boundary between the tundra and the forests that border it. When the researchers modeled how forests would react to climate change, they found what they call an “invasion of forests under global warming”. They predict that a rise in summer temperatures would shift tree habitat northward, overtaking the tundra and threatening both the landscape and its species.

The model simulated the life cycle of thousands of individual trees and how they would likely react to warmer air temperatures. The researchers studied everything from tree density and growth, to seed production and dispersal, to aging and death.

Trees are particularly sensitive to hot summer temperatures, so the team looked at how they would behave if summers got between 1.2°C and 5°C (34 and 41°F) hotter.

Radical warming in Siberia leaves millions on unstable ground

Researchers predict that the tree line will advance more than 18 miles every decade. And although tree migration will likely lag warming by about a century, researchers warn that only ambitious action to tackle climate change can protect the tundra.

The tundras seem barren, but their harsh conditions are home to all kinds of plants and animals, even bumblebees and reindeer. While not completely lost, the researchers say the unbroken tundra could split in two, shrinking significantly as more trees encroach.

And even with consistent climate protection policies, they say it’s possible that only 30% of Siberia’s tundra will survive by the middle of the millennium.

“At this point, it’s a matter of life or death for the Siberian tundra,” Eva Klebelsberg, project manager at WWF Germany, said in a press release. “Larger areas can only be saved with very ambitious climate protection targets.”


Comments are closed.