Environmental Spaces for Palsas and Peat Plateaus are Disappearing at a Circumpolar Scale

Oona Könönen
Olli Karjalainen
Juha Aalto
Miska Luoto
Jan Hjort
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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 10 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. 15 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 20 conditions of the circumpolar region with important implications for greenhouse gas emissions.