Reindeer Deaths Linked to Climate Change

December 24, 2022

The story is from 2021 – but I had not until this week seen the wrenching photo above, and the conditions that created this ongoing disaster persist.
I remembered that the topic had come up in a conversation with Ross Brown of Environment Canada in 2016, so pulled that one out. (below)
Merry Christmas.

Arctic Times:(2021)

Local residents in Russia’s Yamal region believe between 60,000 and 80,000 reindeer might have died of starvation over the past few months. The tragedy follows the formation of a thick layer of ice across major parts of the Yamal tundra.

Reindeer normally manage to dig through the snow to access their favorite food, lichen, but this year the ground is covered by unbreakable ice.

According to herders in the area, the thickness of the ice is at least three centimeters (slightly more than 1 inch).

“The reindeer are not able to get food, and the weak animals quickly die while the remaining parts of the herds lose their strength,” local herder and politician Eiko Serotetto told newspaper Neft.

“If this continues, 300 families in the Seyakha village will be completely without livestock — all animals will die,” Serotetto says.

A similar situation was reportedly experienced in 2014.

Several herders believe the expansive oil and gas industry is to blame for the situation. Through the whole winter, icebreakers have crisscrossed the Gulf of Ob as part of the development of new major industrial projects in the region. Among them is the Arctic LNG 2, the major natural gas project currently under development on the eastern shore of the Ob.

The open waters generate steam that drifts over the tundra and subsequently crystalizes on the snow, the herders argue.

However, the theory is rebuffed by researchers. The ice layer is rather part of a natural phenomenon, and likely connected with climate change, explains Vladimir Semyonov, Head of the Laboratory of Climatology at the Russian Institute of Geography.

“The icebreakers are definitely not the reason for the ice formation. But the climate is changing globally, the temperatures increase,” he told Neft.

Temperatures in Yamal and surrounding Arctic areas have over the past years seen a dramatic increase. The year 2020 was the warmest on record, and parts of Yamal, Taymyr and other Russian Arctic territories had average temperatures up to 7 degrees Сelsius above normal.

A similar difficult situation for reindeer have been experienced also in other parts of the Arctic. In northern Norway, a major rescue operation was initiated in winter 2020 to feed reindeer that risked starvation. In a major air-bridge, up to 250 tons of food was flown into the affected areas by helicopters.

As many as 160,000 animals could have starved to death without the rescue. Deep snow on top of a layer of ice was the reason for the situation.

Barents Observer (2020):

Grazing conditions are very poor this winter as an unusual amount of snow forces the reindeer to dig really deep to find food.

On top of that, mild weather has created layers with ice both in the snow and below, locking lichen into the ground leaving reindeer to starve.

There are about 250,000 reindeer herded by the Sami indigenous community in Norway, of which 180,000 are in Troms and Finnmark county.

Herders have for years warned that climate changes are troubling the animals. Finding food in winter becomes harder, but also migrating from inland to the coast is more challenging since the snow melts earlier in spring, and lakes and rivers freeze later in autumn.

Below – frozen food, and hooves worn from digging thru ice.

Images from Arctic Lab Yamal.

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