EU Science Hub

Alpine tundra contraction under future warming scenarios in Europe

Abstract: 

The alpine tundra is the highest elevation belt of high mountains. This zone is an important reservoir of freshwater and provides habitat to unique species. This study assesses projected changes in the areal extent of the alpine tundra climate zone in three warming levels in European mountains. The alpine tundra was delineated using the Köppen-Geiger climate classification. We used 11 regional climate model simulations from EURO-CORDEX disaggregated at a one-kilometre grid size representing the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios in the 1.5, 2 and 3 °C warming levels. Mitigation represented by the 1.5 °C warming level reduces projected losses of the alpine tundra. However, even in this warming level the projected contraction is severe. In this case, the contraction in the Alps, Scandes and Pyrenees together is projected at between 44% and 48% of the present extent. The contraction is projected to climb in the 2 °C warming to above 57%, while the 3 °C warming would imply that the alpine tundra will be near to collapse in Europe with a contraction of 84% in the three regions, which host most of the alpine tundra in Europe. The projected changes have negative implications for a range of ecosystem services and biodiversity, such as habitat provision, water provision and regulation, erosion protection, water quality and recreational services.