Global Warming – Tundras Threatening to Release Stored CO2?

Photo-illustration: Unsplash (hans-jurgen)

Tundras are cold regions of the world, biomes with short vegetation, lower trees, and extremely low temperatures, which cover large parts of northern Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, Alaska, and the coast of Greenland.

They can also be found in high mountains such as the Alps, Cordillera and Himalayas, where they are called alpine tundra. The largest continuous area of tundra in the world is still on the territory of Russia, stretching from the western part of Siberia to the Pacific coast.

Although tundras are often less populated areas with diverse landscapes, they play a crucial role in climate change because their soil contains large amounts of carbon in the form of organic material, such as peat.

Because of the low temperatures and the permafrost – the frozen soil whose temperature is constantly below zero – decomposition occurs very slowly. This allows the tundra to function as a large carbon storehouse, preventing its release into the atmosphere.


Photo-illustration: Pixabay (buchsammy)

However, due to global warming, this permafrost begins to melt, which can lead to the release of large amounts of methane and CO2, exacerbating the greenhouse effect. In addition to being dangerous to the planet and people, these changes also affect the animals that migrate through the tundra and the local communities that depend on these ecosystems.

To better understand how the tundra changes with global warming, a group of scientists from Umea University in Sweden used open chambers – small greenhouses placed directly on the tundra. These chambers block wind and trap heat, mimicking the effects of heating. The results show that, under the influence of warming, the temperature increases by about 1.4 degrees Celsius and the soil temperature by 0.4 degrees, with a decrease in soil moisture. These changes cause the tundra to release more carbon from the soil due to the heightened activity of microbes that break down organic material.

Experiments have also found that the effects of warming are long-lasting and can continue even after temperature changes stabilize. The team of scientists found out that this process takes less time to play out than expected.

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