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As if we needed another reason to love our horses! Now comes a 2020 study that found that the world’s permafrost can be preserved by horses, reindeer and bison.
What is permafrost, you ask? It is ground that remains permanently frozen for two or more years straight and is found in the North and South Poles. But as we know with climate change studies, the Arctic ice cover is melting at an alarming rate and the permafrost is thawing. This could potentially release tons of carbon into the atmosphere as either carbon dioxide or methane, powerful greenhouse gases which would cause the rate of global warming to increase exponentially.
Back in 1996, researchers created an experiment called Pleistocene Park. Using an eight square mile area of land in Siberia, they fenced in reindeer, horses, moose, bison, sheep and other large herbivores. Then the researchers studied the effects the animals had on the ecosystem. And the biggest finding was that the ground was kept cooler with them than without them.
Basically, the cooling of the earth was due to the large herbivores stamping down the snow with their hooves, reducing the snow’s depth which “reduced the insulating effect of the permafrost, reducing warming and preventing further thawing” and “intensifying the freezing” of the permafrost” by allowing much colder freezing of the soil in the winter and a colder overall mean annual soil temperature. The hypothesis is that this cooling effect may prevent permafrost from thawing, or at least postpone the degradation
One of the researchers, Philipp Porada, a vegetation ecologist at the University of Hamburg, explained to Scientific American, “These herbivores in the model reduce soil temperature substantially, by 1.7 degrees on average. And this leads to a preservation of around 80 per cent of the original—today’s permafrost area. And without the herbivore effect in the model—so in the control run—we found that only 50 per cent of the permafrost area would remain by the year 2100. So we can say that the effect of the herbivores in the model leads to a substantial preservation of permafrost soil.”
Whether or not the political powers that be will relocate herds of herbivores to the Arctic remains to be seen, but it is yet further proof that nature often takes care of itself when left alone.