Pleistocene Park Is Like A Real-Life Ice Age

At this point, the vast majority of experts agree that the planet is warming. What to do to fix it, however, is a big point of conflict. For one father-son research team, the answer for how to fix the future lies in the past. Sergey and Nikita Zimov want to reproduce the environment of the ice age in a place they're calling Pleistocene Park.

The Mammoth In The Room

Whether you believe, like 97 percent of climate scientists do, that climate change is caused by human, or you believe it comes from natural causes, the fact remains that it's happening. Efforts to fight the trend range from the practical, such as investments in renewable power sources, and the seemingly harebrained, such as using artificial volcanoes to cool the planet. The latter falls under an area of research called geoengineering, defined as the deliberate, large-scale intervention in the Earth's natural systems to counteract climate change. That's where Pleistocene Park lands. If successful, the project could have a real impact on the planet's temperature

If I Could Turn Back Time

Here's the idea: the Siberian tundra used to be a giant grassland called the mammoth steppe, where huge herds of grazing animals—including, you guessed it, wooly mammoth—spent their days. At the end of the Pleistocene epoch, the animals vanished, which Sergey Zimov argues happened not due to a shift in climate, but due to changing hunting practices. Without animals, the grasses died out, snow warmed the ground, and the permafrost began to melt. Permafrost is frozen soil that contains vast quantities of carbon. Melt the permafrost, and greenhouse gases come out with it. According to the genetic rescue organization Revive & Restore, "The melting of the world's permafrost is equivalent to burning all the world's forests two and a half times."

But reintroduce grazing animals, and you might be able to reverse all that. Grasses, which are lighter in color than forests and reflect more sunlight back into space, return. The snow is trampled down, which helps the ground stay cold. ("Everyone thinks snow is cold but it's actually a very good heat insulator," Nikita Zimov told The Telegraph. "The air temperature above could be -40ºC (-40ºF) while under the snow it's -5ºC (23ºF).") Resurrect the extinct wooly mammoth, which scientists are attempting to do by modifying elephant genomes, and you could get a herd of supergrazers that could potentially make this happen even faster.

The planned park is small—only 20 square kilometers—but if it works, it could clear the way for larger projects. "I'm not saying our park can solve the global warming issue – not in this century," Zimov continued. "But if we're talking about the next thousand years, Pleistocene Park or a bigger Arctic park would allow carbon emissions to drop to pre-industrial levels." Want to help? The project is currently running a Kickstarter campaign.

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Written by Curiosity Staff March 21, 2017

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