There seem to be as many proposed solutions to the problems caused by climate change as there are reasons given to deny its existence. One new proposal to stave off the melting of Arctic permafrost – and possible stop the proliferation of Siberian craters – is to bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction. Wait, what?
Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) stomped across the Earth up until about 10,000 years ago. They have been extensively studied since frozen remains are abundant in Arctic regions, particularly in Siberia. Food found in their intestines show that the mammoth diet was primarily grass, sedges (a flowering grass-like species), shrubs and other plants that thrive in plains. Climate change that caused the ground plants to be replaced with forests is one of the reasons (in addition to human encroachment) for the extinction of the woolly mammoths.
According to Jeremy Deaton writing in Nexus Media, the disappearance of the mammoths may have also triggered the thawing of Arctic permafrost. While attempting to recreate an Ice Age-like wildlife preserve in Siberia, Russian scientists noticed that the snowy ground where wild horses, oxen and bison trampled stayed much colder in the wintertime than other areas – a difference of as much as 25 degrees Celsius. That frozen ground helped keep the methane gas underneath it from escaping, a major cause of climate change and Siberian craters. Melting permafrost also breeds microbes which eat thawing organic materials, causing the to release methane which … you get the idea.
Can de-extincting woolly mammoths to stomp down the Arctic ground save the permafrost? It seems possible, but only if de-extinction is possible. One option – to clone cells from a nearly fully-intact frozen mammoth discovered in 2013 – has so far been unsuccessful. However, the genetic information has aided the Harvard Woolly Mammoth Revival team and Revive & Restore, a genetic rescue project, to use CRISPR genome editing to alter the DNA of an Asian elephant to trigger the growth of mammoth features such as thick hair, extra fat and low temperature tolerance.
Is the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth a real solution to stop climate change from melting the permafrost or is it just a feel-good excuse to clone and/or create a prehistoric animal for the entertainment, amusement and guilt-relief of the humans who killed them off in the first place? Only time will tell.