Global Warming Is Fueling Growth Spurts in Some of China’s Oldest Trees

Larch trees in northern Asia.

Larch trees in northern Asia. YBernardi/Pixabay

Climate change is causing old trees in northern China’s permafrost forests to grow faster, likely thanks to warmer soil temperatures, according to recent research. Older larch trees grew more from 2005 to 2014 than in the preceding 40 years. And the oldest trees, often 400-plus years, grew more rapidly than at any time in the past three centuries.

As E&E News points out, such behavior is unusual for older trees, whose growth rates usually slow down over time. But the research, led by scientists at Shenyang Agricultural University in China, estimates that as rising global temperatures melt the region’s frozen soil and lower the permafrost layer, the trees’ roots are able to expand and suck up more nutrients and water. The findings were published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences.

But the scientists warn that these growth spurts are a temporary boon: As the region’s permafrost continues to melt, the soil will become wetter and soggier, almost wetland-like. Larch trees are not able to survive in that type of landscape, which will cause the entire ecosystem to shift. The region would also lose a major carbon sink

“We do believe that this is kind of… a transition period in which they are benefiting from having more water,” Rubén Manzanedo, a researcher with Harvard University and the University of Washington and a co-author of the study, told E&E News. “If it keeps going on, they are going to get into a situation they are not adapted to, and that will be pretty dramatic for the ecosystem.”