A new study finds that more than 80 percent of ice-free land is at risk of ecosystem transformation by 2100 unless global warming is limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels. Even if emissions are cut enough so that global warming doesn’t reach 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century, 20 percent of land ecosystems would still be at risk of moderate to major changes.
The research was conducted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and the results have been published in Earth System Dynamics, an open access journal published by the European Geosciences Union (EGU).
“Essentially, we would be leaving the world as we know it,” researcher Sebastian Ostberg said in a press release. “The research shows there is a large difference in the risk of major ecosystem change depending on whether humankind continues with business as usual or if we opt for effective climate change mitigation.”
The press release states that “ecosystem changes could include boreal forests being transformed into temperate savannas, trees growing in the freezing Arctic tundra or even a dieback of some of the world’s rainforests.” While rising sea levels and extreme weather events have been studied extensively, this is one of the first major studies done on climate change’s impact on terrestrial ecosystems.
Images via Ostberg et al., 2013