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Permafrost peatlands in Europe, western Siberia nearing tipping point: Study

  • Published
    17th Mar, 2022
Context

Recently, a new study warned that Permafrost peatlands — frozen, carbon-storing expanses of land — in Europe and western Siberia might be approaching their tipping point faster than expected.

About

About Peatlands:

  • Peatlands are a class of wetlands, which are ecosystems flooded with water.
  • Waterlogged conditions limit microbial decay of dead plant materials rich in carbon dioxide.
  • This prevents the reintroduction of the gas into the atmosphere.
  • According to the United Nations Environment Programme, Peatlands occupy only 3 per cent of the global land surface, store twice as much carbon as all the world’s forests.
  • Some peatlands are buried under frozen ground or permafrost and exist as permafrost peatlands.
  • They are found in the northern parts of Alaska, Canada, Russia and parts of northern Europe.
  • Frozen wetlands in Europe and western Siberia store up to 39 billion tonnes of carbon.
  • This is equivalent to twice that is held by the whole of European forests.

Key findings of the study:

  • Permafrost peatlands — frozen, carbon-storing expanses of land — in Europe and western Siberia might be approaching their tipping point faster than expected.
  • By 2040, northern Europe might become too wet and warm to support permafrost peatlands.
  • Huge stocks of peat carbon have been protected for millennia by frozen conditions, but once those conditions become unsuitable, all that stored carbon can be lost very quickly.
  • This could release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, further accelerating climate change.
  • By 2060, these areas could lose 75 per cent under moderate efforts to mitigate climate change. The figure could go as high as 81 per cent and 93 per cent if the world does little to address the issue.
  • Permafrost peatlands in Sweden, Norway, Finland and parts of European Russia, which are already seeing warmer temperatures, can reach their threshold before western Siberia.
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