How an experimental Minnesota forest is helping predict what could happen in different climate change scenarios

In northern Minnesota, scientists work in the Marcell Experimental Forest. David Weston, Senior Scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, along with more than 100 other researchers, comes to the forest to study how different degrees of global warming could impact the northern forests of the world.

“It’s giving us an idea of ​​how far we can push the system and how resilient the system could be. It’s absolutely amazing to have a future scenario that can be measured right now,” Weston told CBS News. correspondent Ben Tracy.

The group pumps heat and carbon dioxide in chambers with temperature simulations ranging from no heating to 9 degrees Celsius, or around 48 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hexagon-shaped chambers in the experimental forest are open to the sky. Each one is over 30 feet tall, 40 feet wide, and there are 10 on the seven-acre site, each providing a different vision of the future.

Scientists are studying what is known as the boreal forest, the largest forest system in the world. It covers the upper third of the Earth from North America to Scandinavia and much of Russia.

The boreal forest includes several crucial tree species and mossy peat bogs that play an outsized role in regulating the earth’s temperature by sequestering planet-warming carbon dioxide.

“Peatlands are only 3% of the planet’s land surface, but they contain a third to a half of the global soil carbon pool,” said Stephen Sebestyen, a researcher with the National Forest Service.

What scientists are discovering through their studies of the cameras is that the the hotter the planet gets the boreal forest ecosystem dries up. Critical peat is eaten by bacteria and replaced by shrubs. That carbon, once captured in the soil, is released into the atmosphere accelerating the devastating impacts of climate change.

“Each year has led to the loss of carbon from these ecosystems. That is the crisis we face. It’s taking carbon in a solid, stable form in these peatlands to become a gas in the atmosphere that is a greenhouse gas,” Sebestyen said. .

As the northern forest gets drier, they are more prone to wildfires. Record fires have swept through Siberia’s boreal forests in the past two years, charring millions of acres and spewing record amounts of carbon dioxide into the sky.

Scientists believe that planet-warming emissions must be greatly reduced before forest systems reach a tipping point.

“I’m a little optimistic, but why roll the dice? Let’s solve the problem now,” Weston said.