It was previously believed that forest growth in the barren Arctic tundra would absorb the world’s CO2 emissions and slow global warming. However a new report from English and Scottish scientists reveals that as the trees start to grow closer to the North Pole, they are actually releasing more greenhouse gases than they absorb.
The report could have massive implications for how we attempt to prevent global warming, as it was previously thought that an increase in forest growth would slow climate change by soaking up the extra carbon dioxide from the air. The team discovered that as trees takes root further north, the previously barren soil is ‘primed’ and begins to release long-held reserves of carbon. This increase in carbon outweighs the CO2 absorbed by the trees. In short, the Arctic would be better off as a tundra than as a forest.
The Arctic’s forest growth was previously a cause for celebration – the number of trees in the region has grown 8% in the last 30 years. In the report which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the researchers wrote: “We suggest that, as more productive forest communities colonize tundra, the decomposition of the large [carbon] stocks in tundra soils could be stimulated.”
”Thus, counter-intuitively, increased plant growth in the European Arctic could result in [carbon] being released to the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.”
By traveling to the Arctic and peeling the soil back in centimeter-thick layers, the team was able to take samples and measure the carbon and organic content. It is hoped that the team’s results will be able to help scientists refine their estimates of how global warming is affecting the Arctic.