Family members Sergey Zimov, and Nikita Zimov are testing a big hypothesis. Repopulating with large herbivores (and predators) can restore rich grasslands ecosystems. And, that if overhunting, and not climate change was primarily responsible for the pleistocene epoch, quanternary, or big event 11,700 years ago.
Another main aim, is to research the changes expected by the climatic effects of restoring the 10,000 year old plus ecosystem. The hypothesis is that change from tundra to grassland will result in a raised ratio of energy emission to energy absorption of the area, leading to less thawing of permafrost, and thereby less emission of greenhouse gases. It is also thought that stomping and the removal of snow by large herbivores will reduce permafrost insulation sucking in the pollution, even in cold winter.
Melted permafrost is changing the planet:
Greenhouse gasses are warming the planet. Some areas, like Siberia (Russia has 11 of the 18 million square km of permafrost), it is observed more than others. But believe it or not. When there is a lot of snow, the ground and the permafrost do not get much colder in winter. Its why its called permafrost. When these soils thaw though, old microorganisms wake up and attack. What they have not had time to consume. Releasing carbon dioxide when the soil is dry, and methane when it is saturated with water. Due to climate change, it doesn’t help because this area, it is experiencing more rain.
From the melting of the permafrost, if it was only co2 released, rather than both co2 and methane. The emissions is equivalent to that of human beings. For the greenhouse effect (and thus melting of the permafrost) methane gas can be 4 times worse than carbon dioxide. Resulting in even greater global warming. It is a big paradox. Many people do not understand this. The methane released from permafrost is more dangerous than carbon dioxide and both are bad.
In the grassland ecosystem, everything that grew during the summer must be consumed in the winter. Large herbivores need to eat. The only way to access the grass during the cold season is to dig through the cold snow. The parks animals dig in the snow all winter long. This contributes greatly to the cooling of the soil. And, absorption and release of the greenhouse gases.
It was observed that many greenhouse gases decreased during the first year and a half of covid19. While things were shut down. Instead of decreasing the methane gases increased. Due the permafrost melting. Regularly observed were appearances of new small springs where methane gases were bubbling up, in areas that used to be snow and permafrost. Other than the permafrost melting, and being replaced by trees shurbs and mosses. Not grasses, which prehistoric herbivores eat up, and stomp down. Many cannot see any other explanation for preventing this high concentration. The theory purposes that restoring the wildlife and ecosystem will absorb more greenhouse gases and help restore our natural environment. Sergey has been quoting telling the UN: “I created Pleistocene Park to observe how quickly animals could transform the moss tundra into productive grassland… why had the natural environment, which had known so many grasslands, horses, bison, mammoths, become so poor?” Permafrost has long been treated like an unwanted child in the scientific family. Reports are that by 2100 we will have lost another 10-20 percent. It is a big controversial topic.
Researching the effects of large herbivores on the arctic tundra/grasslands ecosystem, and preserving the environment; and,
To research the climatic effects of the expected changes in the ecosystem. Here the key concept is that some of the effects of the large herbivores, such as eradicating trees and shrubs or trampling snow, will result in a stronger cooling of the ground in the winter, leading to less thawing of permafrost during summer and thereby less emission of greenhouse gases.
Sergei Zimov points out contradiction to this scenario:
Similar climatic shifts occurred in previous interglacial periods without causing such massive environmental changes as we are seeing today;
Those large herbivores of the former steppe that survived until today (e.g. musk oxen, bison, horses) thrive in humid environments just as well as in arid ones; and,
The climate (both temperatures and humidity) in today’s northern Siberia is in fact most similar to that of the mammoth steppe.
Did you know? Permafrost is a large global carbon reservoir that has remained frozen throughout much of the Holocene. It is ground that continuously remains below 0 °C (32 °F) for two or more years. It is not necessarily under the snow too. Sometimes it is found hundreds of meteres deep. Due to the recent climate changes, the permafrost is increasingly thawing, releasing stored carbon and forming thermokarst lakes. When the thawed permafrost enters the thermokarst lakes, its carbon is converted into carbon dioxide and methane and released into the atmosphere. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and the methane emissions from thermokarst lakes have the potential to initiate a positive feedback cycle. In which increased atmospheric methane concentrations lead to amplified global climate change. Which keeps the ball rolling to more permafrost thaw, more methane and more carbon dioxide emissions. Included in the higher temperatures, rain and climate change you see in almost all places today.
Implementation & background: regional pleistocene ecoregions. Regenerate the pleistocene terrain with its different ecological habitats such as taiga, tundra, steppe and alpine terrain:
Mainly recreate the extensive grasslands that covered the Beringia region in the late pleistocene. Mammoth steppe with large and medium herbivores. Species woolly mammoth, woolly rhino, steppe wisent, lena Horse, muskox, and reindeer. Saiga antelope, some massive herds. On the edges, barrier shrub-like terrain, and dry conifer forests (similar to taiga): woolly rhinoceros, moose, wapiti, yukon wild ass, and camels. Beyond this, mountains, more mountain-going animals like: snow sheep. Variety of carnivorous mammals. Like on the plains: beringian cave lion, apex predators, shared grey wolf, cave hyena, homotherium, brown bear, wolverine, and arctic fox. In shrubs and forests there were also brown bears, wolverines, cave bears, lynxes, tigers, leopards, and red foxes.
Did you know? Siberian tiger and Amur leopard occupied the southern present Russian-Sino border in the Amur and Primorye regions. And, both have been purposed for the park.
Few of the former species of megafauna are left; and their population density is extremely low, too low to affect the environment. Desired results density raised artificially by fencing in and concentrating existing large herbivores. A large variety of species is important as each species concerns. For example are the effects on the flora (are the mosses being replaced by grasses, etc.), the effects on the atmosphere (changes in levels of methane, carbon dioxide, water vapor) and the effects on the permafrost.
Once a high density of herbivores over a vast area has been reached, predators larger than the wolves will have to be introduced to keep the megafauna in check.
Did you know? It is believed anywhere permafrost currently exsists, or even areas burned from forest fire, the mammoth steppe can be re-created. Reducing greenhouse gases. The rate of decomposition of organic matter in the soil where there were fires depends mainly on temperature. Introducing grasses and mammoth steepe slows the process down. The only way to force the soil to retain carbon is to cool it down. For a long time, scientists have known, that dark forests absorb the sun’s rays, while the lighter, snow-covered grasslands reflect them in winter. Having a combination can have positive effects on the permafrost and environment.
-1988–1996: The first grazing experiments began in 1988 at the northeast science station in Chersky with yakutian horses.
-1996–2004: In 1996 a 50 ha (125 acre) enclosure was built in Pleistocene Park. As a first step in recreating the ancient landscape, the yakutian horses were introduced, as horses most abundant ungulates. Moose, already present in the region, introduced. The effects of larger animals (mammoths and buffalo) created by using a tank and 8×8 Argo to crush pathways through the willowshrub.
The vegetation in the park started to change. In the areas where the horses grazed, the soil compacted. Mosses, weeds and willow shrub were replaced by grass. Flat grassland is now the dominating landscape inside the park. When air temperature sank to −40 °C (−40 °F) in winter, the temperature of the ground was found to be only –5 °C (+23 °F) under an intact cover of snow, but −30 °C (−22 °F) where the animals had trampled down the snow. The grazers thus help keep permafrost intact, thereby lessening the amount of methane released by the tundra.
-2004–2011: A new fence was erected. After complete, reindeer and more moose were brought into the park.
A 32 meter (105 foot) high tower was erected in the park, in 2007, that constantly monitors the levels of methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor in the park’s atmosphere.
Muskox from Wrangel island were reintroduced in 2010
In 2011, Altai wapiti were introduced
-2011–2016: Construction of a new branch begun on the “Wild field section”, and greater energy monitoring stations were put in.
-2017–present: yak, and sheep were brought to the park. More plans for future.
Reception & Controversial aspects:
Critics admonish that introducing alien species could damage the fragile ecosystem of the existing tundra. Scientist Sergey Zimov replies: “Tundra – that is not an ecosystem. Such systems had not existed on the planet [before the disappearance of the megafauna], and there is nothing to cherish in the tundra. Of course, it would be silly to create a desert instead of the tundra, but if the same site would evolve into a steppe, then it certainly would improve the environment. If deer, foxes, bovines were more abundant, nature would only benefit from this. And people too. However, the danger still exists, of course, you have to be very careful. If it is a revival of the steppes, then, for example, small animals are really dangerous to release without control. As for large herbivores – no danger, as they are very easy to remove again.”
Another concern point is a majority of species cant be introduced in harsh conditions. For example, according to some critics, the yakutian horses, would not survive without food supply and human intervention. Mostly in the fall when water freezes and before the snow hits (the horses eat the snow for water, but cant lick the ice as easily).
Project drawdown claims the park as: “100 most substantive solutions to global warming”. Total costs and lifetime savings were monitored in the study.
In January 2020, a study from the University of Oxford assessed the viability of the park’s goals. It was estimated, if three large-scale experimental were set up, each containing 1000 animals. Over a ten year period, that 72,000 metric tons of carbon could be held and generate 360,000 US dollars in carbon revenues.
The park is a select hub for a small number of journalists; and, international scientists, and students, who come from around the world to conduct their own ecological research and experiments.
Size and administration:
Pleistocene Park is a 160 km square scientific nature reserve (Zakaznik) consisting of willow brush, grasslands, swamps, forests and a multitude of lakes.
The average temperature in January is about –33 °C; and, in July +12 °C; annual precipitation is 200–250 mm.
The reserve is surrounded by a 600 km 2 buffer zone.
Herbivores: Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus);
Moose (Alces alces);
Muskox (Ovibos moschatus); and
European bison, Bison bonasus).
Muskoxen family: Domestic yak (Bos mutus grunniens);
Edilbaevskaya sheep (a domestic breed of sheep);
Kalmykian cattle (a domestic breed of cattle adapted for the Mongolian steppe);
Plains bison (Bison bison bison);
Orenburg fur goat (Capra aegagrus hircus); and,
Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus).
Carnivores: Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx);
Tundra wolf (Canis lupus albus);
Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus);
Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos);
Wolverine (Gulo gulo);
Red fox (Vulpes vulpes);
Sable (Martes zibellina); and,
Stoat (Mustela erminea).
Herbivores considered for reintroduction:
Wood bison (Bison bison athabascae);
Altai wapiti or Altai maral (Cervus canadensis sibiricus);
Wild yak (Bos mutus);
Snow sheep (Ovis nivicola);
Wild Bactrian camel (Camelus ferus);
Siberian roe deer (Capreolus pygargus);
Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica); and,
Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris tigris).
Did you know? Harvard universities geneticist George Church, and others are working on a plan to genetically resurrect woolly mammoths.
Animals that could be placed in the park if revived from extinction:
Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius);
Cave lion (Panthera spelaea);
Steppe bison (Bison priscus);
Woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis);
Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus); and,
Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus).
Slip into your own pleistocene freedom. Wander free and create your own natural time of life. Your kind will grow stronger and stronger, as the millennia go on and on and on. Earth may overflow with life one day again. Maybe one day, all of our mistakes may even be taken back. And if it does. And, if we save the planet and be ourselves, that will be the sh*t.
Bibliography: Kintisch, Eli (4 December 2015). “Born to rewild. A father and son’s quixotic quest to bring back a lost ecosystem – and save the world”. Science. Vol. 350, no. 6265. pp. 1148–1151.
Joel Makower (2014): “Inside Paul Hawken’s audacious plan to ‘drawdown’ climate change.” GreenBiz, 22 October 2014. Jan 2023
Александр Марков (Aleksandr Markov) (6 December 2006): “Хороший забор — главное условие восстановления мамонтовых степей.” In: Элементы. Article found in: www.pleistocenepark.ru/en/ – Media about us. Jan 2023