Man Works to Save the Arctic —With Help From Camels

Research shows large herbivores can slow permafrost thaw
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 4, 2021 3:53 PM CDT

(Newser) – Scientist Sergey Zimov lives 80 miles from Russia's Arctic coast, yet he can't find any of the permanently frozen ground that once covered much of Siberia. The melting of permafrost has also been observed in Arctic regions in Canada and Norway, where temperatures are rising at more than three times the global average. Homes, roads, and pipelines are sinking, but more significant to Zimov is the potential release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases from the decay of animals and plants long trapped in permafrost. Indeed, "one or two percent of permafrost carbon is equivalent to total global emissions for a year," Chris Burn, president of the International Permafrost Association, tells Reuters.

That's to say nothing of large amounts of methane, which reportedly causes 80 times as much warming as the same amount of carbon dioxide, which is also leaking from Russia's Arctic, per Smithsonian. Luckily, Zimov of the Northeast Science Station in Siberia's Sakha region may have found a localized solution. Since 1996, he and his son, Nikita, have been populating a nature reserve, Pleistocene Park, with 200 species of large herbivores—including bison, horses, and camels—that flatten the thick snow cover, allowing heat in the ground to escape more easily in winter. A 2020 study carried out at the preserve found the animals cut snow depth in half for "an approximately 44% reduced subsoil warming and a 37% reduced loss in permafrost area."

Lead author Christian Beer of Universität Hamburg noted the "tremendous potential" of the strategy. "It may be Utopian to imagine resettling wild animal herds in all the permafrost regions of the Northern Hemisphere,” he said last year, per Discover. "But the results indicate that using fewer animals would still produce a cooling effect." The study did note that the animal density at Pleistocene Park—114 per square kilometer—was achievable across the Arctic, per Reuters. "We're working to prove that these ecosystems will help in the fight," Nikita tells the outlet, which reports the park is opening to accepting cloned mammoths. "But, of course, our efforts alone are not enough." (Read more permafrost stories.)

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