Boreal Forests Could Hit Climate Change “Tipping Point”

By Joshua Rapp Learn

A view of a lake in the Canadian Boreal Forest on the road to Nahanni National Park in Yukon. A new study found that boreal forests across the world could hit a “tipping point” from climate change without better international policy and management.

Image Credit: Susan Drury, licensed by cc 2.0

Boreal forests could be hard hit from climate change by the end of the century without better international policy and management, according to researchers.

“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,” said Anatoly Shvidenko in a release. Shvidenko is an Ecosystems Services and Management Program researcher with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and coauthor of a new study published in Science.

The researchers reviewed recent field research to find that boreal forests of Canada, Russia, Alaska and Scandinavia represent around 30 percent of the total forest of the planet. Aside from playing home to many northern species of flora and fauna, they also regulate the planet’s climate themselves by sequestering carbon dioxide from the air.

But studies show that the climate is warming up in these northern areas 10 times faster than forests can migrate northwards. Meanwhile, warmer conditions are causing the outbreak of more wildfires and the spread of deadly insects.

“These forests evolved under cold conditions, and we do not know enough about the impacts of warming on their resilience and buffering capacity,” Shvidenko said. “Boreal forests have the potential to hit a tipping point this century.”

Joshua LearnJoshua Rapp Learn is a science writer at The Wildlife Society.

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