Boreal forests take a hit as climate change warms them at rates as high as 0.5°C per decade, with the potential of increasing to 6 or 11°C by the year 2100.
That is, "Boreal forests have the potential to hit a tipping point this century," International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIAS) researcher Anatoly Shvidenko said in a statement. "It is urgent that we place more focus on climate mitigation and adaptation with respect to these forests, and also take a more integrated and balanced view of forests around the world."
Boreal forests make up 30% of the planet's total forested area, spanning northernmost regions of Canada, Russia, Alaska, and Scandinavia. Home to many plants and animals, these forests also play a vital role in supplying large quantities of wood for lumber and biofuel production and in managing Earth's climate system by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the release noted.
Researchers including Shvidenko at IIAS and others at Natural Resources Canada and the University of Helsinki recently published their findings in the journal Science. Their research indicates that boreal forest climate zones are moving northward at a rate ten times faster than the trees are able to migrate. This, paired with climate change instituting warmer and drier conditions and spreading outbreaks of invasive species; causes these forests to be altered.
"These forests evolved under cold conditions, and we do not know enough about the impacts of warming on their resilience and buffering capacity," Shvidenko explained.
As a result, researchers who conducted the study on these forests call for governments and societies to place a greater focus on their heath. Doing so includes gaining a better understanding the forests' resilience, adaptive capacity, and productivity. This would also mean making sure that the forests don't change from a net sink for carbon dioxide to a major source of increased greenhouse gas emissions.
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