Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Rewilding the Arctic Could Slow the Climate Crisis

Climate
Rewilding the Arctic Could Slow the Climate Crisis
A wild Woodland Bison walks in the Arctic wilderness. RyersonClark / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Paul Brown

Releasing herds of large animals onto the tundra − rewilding the Arctic − to create vast grasslands could slow down global heating by storing carbon and preserving the permafrost, UK scientists say.


With no woolly mammoths available nowadays, the scientists, from the University of Oxford, suggest an alternative in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B − importing large herds of bison and horses to provide the mega-fauna that would prevent tree growth and create huge areas of grazing land.

These big animals, originally present in the Arctic together with the reindeer, wolves and other large creatures still living there, would create a natural geo-engineering project to alter the landscape, the researchers say. The idea is to preserve as much carbon in the soil as possible and reflect more sunlight back into space.

The scientists visited Pleistocene Park, a Russian experiment in north-eastern Siberia, which is an attempt to recreate the mammoth steppe ecosystem of the last ice age by re-introducing large grazing animals.

Trees that are growing ever further north as the Arctic warms are in turn leading to the melting of more permafrost by breaking up the snow which otherwise reflects sunlight away from the earth. Instead, the snow absorbs more of the sunlight, enhancing the warming further.

By removing woody vegetation, enhancing grass growth and trampling on snow in search of winter forage, the scientists say, large mammals increase the amount of incoming solar energy that bounces back to space − the albedo effect.

Unlike shallow-rooted trees, grasslands also favor the capture of carbon in the deep roots of grasses and enable cold winter temperatures to penetrate deeper into the soil. Altogether, they say, these changes would have a net cooling effect on Arctic lands and delay permafrost melt.

"The Arctic is already changing, and fast. Taking a 'do nothing' approach now is a decision to allow rapid, irreversible changes to occur," says lead author Dr. Marc Macias-Fauria, at Oxford's School of Geography and the Environment.

"Although the science of Arctic eco-engineering is largely untested, it has the potential to make a big difference, and action in this region should be given serious consideration."

Big Emissions Savings

The study estimates that carbon emissions from thawing permafrost could be around 4.35 billion tonnes a year over this century. This is around half as much as fossil fuel emissions, and three times more than estimates of the emissions produced by current and projected land use change, for example in tropical forests.

One of the drawbacks to the scheme is the need to import large quantities of relatively scarce animals like bison into the vast expanses that would need to be rewilded. It would take time to build up the numbers of animals required.

The fossil record in the period the scientists are trying to recreate shows that each square kilometer contained an average of one mammoth, 5 bison, 7.5 horses, 15 reindeer, 0.25 cave lions, and one wolf. This is around the animal density of present-day African savanna game reserves. Rewilding efforts would initially focus on bison and horses.

The researchers believe the scheme could be economic, especially if the price of the carbon saved is factored in. They provide a detailed analysis for an experiment over a period of 10 years for the introduction and monitoring of three large-scale trial areas, which includes importing 1,000 animals for each of the three at a cost of $114 million (£88m). On an annual basis this alone would keep 72,000 tonnes of carbon in the ground.

The scientists believe that rewilding could be a cost-effective solution and bring extra benefits like new tourism and "carbon-negative wild meat," which would cut the demand for farmed beef and reduce pressure on forested areas in the tropics. They also say the study constitutes a potential opportunity for UK-Russia cooperation on climate change mitigation.

Reposted with permission from Climate News Network.

A Stop the Money Pipeline protester holds a banner outside JP Morgan headquarters in NYC on Feb. 25, 2020; JP Morgan is a top contributor to the fossil fuel industry. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

GMC will begin producing an electric Hummer in 2021. GMC

General Motors is reintroducing the gas-guzzling, military-style vehicle known as The Hummer. This time, it's getting a green makeover as a zero-emissions, fully electric pickup truck, NPR reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

We pet owners know how much you love your pooch. It's your best friend. It gives you pure happiness and comfort when you're together. But there are times that dogs can be very challenging, especially if they are suffering from a certain ailment. As a dog owner, all you want to do is ease whatever pain or discomfort your best friend is feeling.

Read More Show Less
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield attends a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee reviewing coronavirus response efforts on Sept. 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Andrew Harnik-Pool / Getty Images

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has altered its guidelines that define close contact between people while also releasing a study that showed the novel coronavirus is able to be transmitted in brief interactions, as STAT News reported.

Read More Show Less
A diabolical ironclad beetle. Heather Broccard-Bell / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The aptly named diabolical ironclad beetle (Phloeodes diabolicus) has an exoskeleton so strong, it can survive being pecked by birds and even run over by cars. When early entomologists tried to mount them as specimens, BBC News explained, that exoskeleton would snap or bend their pins.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch