Canada’s boreal forest on verge of dramatic transformation, study finds

Boreal forest

Climate change is about to have a very real impact on boreal forests in Northern Canada, according to a study released last week in the academic journal Science.

“This forest will convert to a type of savannah,” Dmitry Schepaschenko, one of the study’s authors, told the CBC.

According to the study, the boreal forests have reached a tipping point, meaning that they are about to experience a dramatic increase in temperature—a greater temperature increase than any other ecological zone on earth, in fact. The boreal forest covers a large swath of Northern Canada, as well as portions of Scandinavia and Russia. According to Schepaschenko, parts of Siberia will likely increase in temperature by 11 degrees Celsius.

The result of this temperature increase will be that the solid regions coniferous forest will likely transform into a mixture of groves and grasslands, according to the study. “In our small world, everything is connected,” says Schepaschenko. “There could be big trouble.”

Boreal forests store large quantities of carbon dioxide, which would be released if those forests were to disappear. Boreal forests are also home to a wide variety of animals and plants, and they are a significant source of lumber. If their temperature increases by much, it would likely result in drier conditions, the spread of disease, and wildfires.

“It is urgent that we place more focus on climate mitigation and adaptation with respect to these forests,” says another of the study’s authors, Anatoly Shvidenko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Schepaschenko agrees: “We really need some form of adaptive forest management.”

The study’s one Canadian author, Sylvie Gauthier, is not allowed to speak to media about her research on the subject, due to the federal government’s recent restrictions on government employees.