5784 What Lies Beneath the Soils of the Northern Circumpolar Region?

Sunday, February 19, 2012: 1:00 PM
Room 109 (VCC West Building)
Luca Montanarella , European Commission, JRC, IES, Ispra (Varese), Italy
Large areas of permanent permafrost and the largest pool of soil organic carbon characterize the soils of the Northern Circumpolar Region globally. The recently published Soil Atlas of the Northern Circumpolar Region by the JRC allows for a full overview of these important soil resources of the globe. The 144 pages atlas is the result of a three-year collaborative project with partners from northern EU countries, as well as Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the USA and Russia and gives a detailed overview of circumpolar soil resources relevant also to agriculture, forest management, water management, land use planning, infrastructure and housing and energy transport networks It covers regions above the latitude of 50° N, which represent 16% of global land surface. So far, the public perception focuses on the melting of arctic ice as one of the indicators for climate change. However, 1700 billion tons of organic carbon are kept in the soils of the northern permafrost region and their thawing could lead to substantial release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and would further increase global warming. The Soil Atlas of the Northern Circumpolar Region is the first compilation providing all the available information on this carbon pool as well as other important data on northern soils. The Atlas will therefore provide a valuable scientific input to climate change and sustainable development models. 

Organic carbon in soils is the biggest terrestrial carbon pool and presents an important factor in future climate change projections. Permanently frozen grounds in the northern polar region, together with extensive peatlands, ensure that those soils are a significant carbon sink.

These important carbon stores need special attention because the boreal and arctic regions that house them are expected to warm more rapidly than the rest of the world. Similarly to what happens when you pull the electricity plug of a freezer, decomposition of organic matter starts with increased temperatures and leads, in the case of soil, to emissions of CO2 and methane. This new atlas is a comprehensive source of data, which will allow scientists and policymakers to understand whether there is a back coupling effect on global warming and underpin the development of policies to protect the arctic carbon sinks and thus our climate.

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