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Lichens have learned to warm up permafrost

An international group of scientists with the participation of researchers from the Pacific Geographical Institute of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences found that lichen layers significantly contribute to the melting of permafrost and ensure the increase of local soil temperatures. The relevant article was published in PLoS ONE.
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Scientists have investigated the effect of different species of arctic vegetation on permafrost and the temperature regime. To determine the contribution of each of the tiers of the forest, as well as of individual plants and lichens, scientists measured the electrical resistance of the soil under different forms of vegetation and the temperature of the soil and the composition of the air above them.

The results showed that melting of permafrost is more intensive under lichen layers than under other types of vegetation. Lichens create a special microclimate — warmer and more hostile to permafrost. This would not have affected the permafrost significantly under normal conditions — part of it that thaws in the summer usually re-freezes during the winter. However, now, during the global warming period, freezing is noticeably more complicated and the parts of permafrost that have thawed do not always return to the original state in the winter. Since lichens are often the dominant species of vegetation in the tundra, they can significantly accelerate the processes of global warming and permafrost thawing in vastly spacious areas of the Northern Hemisphere.

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