07 Jul 2022
07 Jul 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Environmental spaces for palsas and peat plateaus are disappearing at a circumpolar scale

Oona Helena Könönen1, Olli Karjalainen1, Juha Aalto2,3, Miska Luoto2, and Jan Hjort1 Oona Helena Könönen et al.
  • 1Geography Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, 90014, Finland
  • 2Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, 00014, Finland
  • 3Finnish Meteorological Institute, Helsinki, 00101, Finland

Abstract. The anthropogenic climate change threatens northern permafrost environments. This compromises the existence of permafrost landforms, such as palsas and peat plateaus, which have been assessed to be critically endangered habitats. In this study, for the first time we integrated geospatial datasets and statistical methods, to model the distribution of palsas and peat plateaus across the Northern Hemisphere permafrost region. The models were calibrated using data from years 1950–2000. The effects of climate change on the future distribution of palsas were assessed by using moderate and high emission scenarios (Representative Concentration Pathways; RCP4.5 and RCP8.5, respectively) for two periods (2041–2060 and 2061–2080). Hotspots for palsas and peat plateaus occurred in Northern Europe, Western Siberia, and subarctic Canada. Climate change was predicted to cause an almost complete loss (˗98.2 %) of suitable environmental spaces under a high emissions scenario by 2061–2080, while under a moderate emissions scenario 89.3 % were predicted to disappear. The comparison with previously published thermokarst data supported our findings regarding the recent degradation of palsa and peat plateau environments. Our results fill the knowledge gaps in the distribution of the permafrost landforms in less studied areas such as Central and Eastern Siberia. In addition, the projections provide insights into the changing geoecological conditions of the circumpolar region with important implications for greenhouse gas emissions.

Oona Helena Könönen et al.

Status: open (until 07 Sep 2022)

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Oona Helena Könönen et al.

Oona Helena Könönen et al.


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Short summary
For the first time, suitable environments for palsas and peat plateaus were modelled for the whole Northern Hemisphere. The hotspots of occurrences were in Northern Europe, western Siberia, and subarctic Canada. Climate change was predicted to cause almost complete loss of the studied landforms by the late century. Our predictions filled knowledge gaps in the distribution of the landforms, and they can be utilized in estimation of the pace and impacts of the climate change over northern regions.