Releasing herds of animals into the Arctic could help tackle the climate crisis, researchers say.
A computerised simulation of conditions at the polar region found that with enough wildlife, 80 per cent of the world’s permafrost soils could be saved, preventing a vicious circle of environmental catastrophe.
Half of all permafrost areas – ground that is permanently frozen – are on course to thaw by the year 2100 at current rates of climate change, scientists say.
This is caused by rising emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which are predicted to push up frozen land temperatures by 7F. But experts in Germany calculated that if herds of horses, bison and reindeer repopulated the tundra, ground temperatures would rise by only 4F, protecting most of it from melting.
In exceptionally cold areas such as the Arctic, the air is even colder than the earth, and thick blankets of snow act as insulation on land, protecting it from the air and keeping it milder.
But grazing animals can keep the ground cool by dispersing snow and compressing the land, according to the study, published in the nature journal Scientific Reports.
When permafrost melts, it releases heat-trapping gases that have been buried for tens of thousands of years back into the atmosphere, so accelerating the climate crisis.