First broadcast on 13 January 2021
In this episode, Tom Heap discovers how trees and fluffy snow are the bad guys when it comes to climate change in Siberia.
Trees are often thought to be the good guys when it comes to climate change. In Siberia, however, it's not always the case. The landscape was changed when humans arrived and the forest that took over from grasslands is causing problems. In Pleistocene Park, Russian scientists are carrying out a radical rewilding - removing trees and reintroducing species of grazing animals to help protect the permafrost - the deep frozen ground - from thawing and releasing methane into the atmosphere.
Tom Heap and Dr Tamsin Edwards consider how this ambitious idea could help in the fight against climate change.
Listen now on BBC Radio 4
We invited Society Fellow, Professor Vincent Gauci, a Professorial Fellow in Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham, to offer some observations on the rewilding methods in Siberia discussed in the programme. His points take some of the themes of the programme a step further:
There could be other benefits beyond albedo effects on Siberian rewilding. My research into the topic found that trees can tap soil methane and emit it to the atmosphere and so removing trees may help to avoid those emissions. Moreover, trees are known to provide fresh carbon (from recent photosynthesis, root exudates and decomposing roots) to the old, accumulated carbon locked in the soil which may ‘prime’ the community of microbes to further degrade the old carbon that would otherwise be quite resistant.
Reindeer, northern Siberia (Image: Hans-Jurgen Mager/Unsplash)
There are other factors to consider when removing the trees beyond the albedo effect. Large herbivores tend to be methane producers. Therefore, the offset effect of this should be considered."
Anderson, R. (2017) Welcome to Pleistocene Park. The Atlantic
Van der Wal, R. (2006) Do herbivores cause habitat degradation or vegetation state transition? Evidence from the tundra. OIKOS 114:1, p. 177 - 186
39 ways to save the planet is a new radio series by BBC Radio 4 developed in partnership with the Society and broadcast in 2021. It showcases 39 ideas to relieve the stress that climate change is placing on the Earth. In each 15 minute episode Tom Heap and Dr Tamsin Edwards meet the people behind a fresh and fascinating idea to cut the carbon.
Over the course of 2021, the Society will be producing events and digital content to accompany the series.
Featured card image: BBC
Featured banner image: Hans-Jurgen Mager/Unsplash
The Society has produced a free resource for teachers related to this episode.
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