Arctic Sea Ice Disappearance Leaves 80,000 Reindeer Dead

Santa won't be happy.  It's almost Christmas and a lot of reindeers are starving to death.  In November 2013, 61,000 reindeers died due to starvation on Russia's Yamal Peninsula. It marked the largest regional "mortality episode" of reindeer ever recorded, as ecologists wrote in a new study in the journal Biology Letters. An additional 20,000 reindeers had succumbed to famine in November 2006. The immediate cause, according to the team of researchers from Europe, the United States and Asia, was an unusual ice barrier that smothered the reindeer pastures.

Climate Change Is Strongly Felt In The Artic Region And Is Affecting The Herd

Reindeers can stomp through ice about three-quarters of an inch thick, using their feet to access the nutritious lichen and plants below.  However, in November of 2006 and 2013, the ice was an order of magnitude deeper - up to several inches, too tough even for the reindeer's sharp hoofs. The animals died due to starvation or not being able to eat.

When warming causes the thinning of nearby Arctic sea ice - which wind and waves then fracture - or its complete melting, the warm Atlantic water below is revealed. As Jennifer Francis, a Rutgers University Arctic specialist told The Post in May, the Arctic has reached "record-breaking territory": low Arctic sea ice, high temperatures and fire seasons that start sooner each year.

Warm Climate Means Rains Will Become More Frequent And Intense

Bruce C. Forbes, an expert on permafrost ecology at the University of Lapland in Finland, described the weather events that created the ice as "rain-on-snow," or ROS.  "Herders have observed about once per decade these events are intensive and extensive enough to lead to starvation of animals, when herds cannot find soft, diggable snow," Forbes said.

Forbes said that mathematical models predict rains will become more frequent and intense. "We are recommending in the near future that mobile slaughterhouses could be deployed in time to the herds at risk out on the tundra," he said, "so that reindeer can be slaughtered humanely."

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