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Climate change could doom Alaska's tundra

PORTLAND In the next 100 years, Alaska will experience a massive loss of its historic tundra, as global warming allows these vast regions of cold, dry, lands to support forests and other vegetation that will dramatically alter native ecosystems, an Oregon State University researcher said today.

Polar regions such as Alaska will be among the first to illustrate the profound impacts of climate change, said Dominique Bachelet, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Bioengineering and expert on the effects of climate change on terrestrial vegetation. She spoke at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

More precipitation, an overall loss of soil carbon, a probable reduction in forest fires and a likely increase in insect and pathogen attacks on trees are also projected by some of the most sophisticated computer models yet developed, Bachelet said. "The effects of climate change in Alaska will be among the most visible in the world," Bachelet said. "The tundra has no place else to go, and it will largely disappear from the Alaskan landscape, along with the related plant, animal and even human ecosystems that are based upon it."

The newest research suggests that 90 percent of Alaska's tundra that was present in 1920 will be gone by 2100, less than a century from now, under one of the climate models projecting the most extreme warming. A model with more conservative estimates indicates that 77 percent of the tundra will disappear during that time.

Temperatures have already been above the historical norm in Alaska for the past 17 years. But about 100 years from now, the average annual temperature in Alaska may soar up to 13 degrees Fahrenheit higher in the worst case scenario predicted by climate models. Tundra is a cold, comparatively dry ecosystem that now covers much of Alaska, characterized by the permanently frozen deep soil layers called permafrost, few or no trees, grasses and dwar
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Contact: Dominique Bachelet
bachelet@fsl.orst.edu
360-570-2015
Oregon State University
3-Aug-2004


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