Berkeley Lab researchers found that the world’s boreal forest also known as taiga would steadily shift north in this century due to extreme temperatures. In the process, the vegetation would release more carbon than climate scientists expected.
The taiga which is one of the Earth’s largest carbon sponges covers large parts of Russia, Europe and Canada at their northernmost altitudes. The boreal forest’s vegetation usually consists in conifers, shrubs and mini-sized wetland plants.
Researchers explained that boreal forests are very important in keeping the delicate balance between the greenhouse gas emissions man-made activities generate and optimal oxygen levels.
Berkeley researchers used computer models to predict what impact climate change would have on various ecosystems across the world in the next 100 years. When they analyzed boreal forests, scientists found that the ecosystems would gradually expand closer to the North Pole as their altitudes become increasingly warmer. Past studies had revealed a similar outcome but they also showed that the forests would store even more carbon on their way toward higher altitudes.
On the other hand, the Berkeley Lab team says that that may not be accurate. Their climate models revealed that boreal forests won’t “expand.” They would “shift” northward. The team explained that their southern reaches would be invaded by warmth-loving vegetation such as grasslands as temperatures continue to rise.
On the other hand, grasslands are not that effective at storing carbon. They do store some in their soil but at a slower pace than a forest would.
Berkeley Lab’s Charles Koven explained that if the boreal forests do shift polewards we would have a strange mix of vegetation and ecosystems in the locations more affected by rising temperatures.
“In some places, that will be forest, but in other places it will be grassland,”
Mr. Koven explained.
He also said that other climate models were unable to predict such scenario because they had simply overestimated the amount of carbon boreal forests can store in higher altitudes.
Berkeley Scientists based their climate model on the assumption that as climate change pushes global temperatures upwards an ecosystem’s climate would gradually be replaced by another ecosystem’s climate which is located in the warmer, southern parts. The displaced ecosystem would then shift to a region that has a cooler climate. But in the end all regions would get warmer so some ecosystems may have to disappear.
The study was published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Image Source: Wikipedia
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