Claim: Climate is killing off the Reindeer

Strolling reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in the Kebnekaise valley, Lappland, Sweden.

Strolling reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) in the Kebnekaise valley, Lappland, Sweden. By Alexandre Buisse (Nattfodd) – self-made (, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Professor Bruce Forbes has speculated that increasing frequency of rain in the Arctic, which freezes to hard ice, is starving the reindeer by preventing them from breaking through to their frozen fodder.

80,000 reindeer have starved to death as Arctic sea ice retreats

By Andy Coghlan

It’s not just polar bears that are suffering as Arctic sea ice retreats.

Tens of thousands of reindeer in Arctic Russia starved to death in 2006 and 2013 because of unusual weather linked to global warming. The same conditions in the first half of November led to both famines, which killed 20,000 deer in 2006 and 61,000 in 2013.

Sea ice retreated and unseasonally warm temperatures contributed to heavy rains, which later froze the snow cover for months, cutting off the reindeer’s usual food supply of lichen and other vegetation.

“Reindeer are used to sporadic ice cover, and adult males can normally smash through ice around 2 centimetres thick,” says Bruce Forbes at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, who led the study. “But in 2006 and 2013, the ice was several tens of centimetres thick.”

This September saw the second-lowest level of sea-ice cover on record in the Arctic, and there is fear of another famine.

“If we see such events again this year, it could mean that they’re becoming more frequent,” says Forbes. “Now is the risk window, and if it happens again, it will be a major problem for traditional reindeer herders still suffering from losses in 2013.”

Read more:

The abstract of the study;

Sea ice, rain-on-snow and tundra reindeer nomadism in Arctic Russia

Bruce C. Forbes, Timo Kumpula, Nina Meschtyb, Roza Laptander, Marc Macias-Fauria, Pentti Zetterberg, Mariana Verdonen, Anna Skarin, Kwang-Yul Kim, Linette N. Boisvert, Julienne C. Stroeve, Annett Bartsch

Sea ice loss is accelerating in the Barents and Kara Seas (BKS). Assessing potential linkages between sea ice retreat/thinning and the region’s ancient and unique social–ecological systems is a pressing task. Tundra nomadism remains a vitally important livelihood for indigenous Nenets and their large reindeer herds. Warming summer air temperatures have been linked to more frequent and sustained summer high-pressure systems over West Siberia, Russia, but not to sea ice retreat. At the same time, autumn/winter rain-on-snow (ROS) events have become more frequent and intense. Here, we review evidence for autumn atmospheric warming and precipitation increases over Arctic coastal lands in proximity to BKS ice loss. Two major ROS events during November 2006 and 2013 led to massive winter reindeer mortality episodes on the Yamal Peninsula. Fieldwork with migratory herders has revealed that the ecological and socio-economic impacts from the catastrophic 2013 event will unfold for years to come. The suggested link between sea ice loss, more frequent and intense ROS events and high reindeer mortality has serious implications for the future of tundra Nenets nomadism.

Read more:

It seems a bit premature to call the end of Reindeer. Reindeer evolved into their current form over half a million years ago, according to Wikipedia the earliest remnant was dated to 680,000BP – 620,000BP. Since then they have survived several interglacials, including the warm Eemian interglacial, a 15,000 year interglacial which was at least 1-2C warmer than today.

The climate has also likely been significantly warmer in the recent past, as the following Climategate email (0907975032.txt) demonstrates;

From: Rashit Hantemirov

To: Keith Briffa

Subject: Short report on progress in Yamal work

Date: Fri, 9 Oct 1998 19:17:12 +0500

Reply-to: Rashit Hantemirov

Dear Keith,

I apologize for delay with reply. Below is short information about state of Yamal work.

Samples from 2,172 subfossil larches (appr. 95% of all samples), spruces (5%) and birches (solitary finding) have been collected within a region centered on about 67030’N, 70000’E at the southern part of Yamal Peninsula. All of them have been measured.

Success has already been achieved in developing a continuous larch ring-width chronology extending from the present back to 4999 BC. My version of chronology (individual series indexed by corridor method) attached (file “yamal.gnr”). I could guarantee today that last 4600-years interval (2600 BC – 1996 AD) of chronology is reliable. Earlier data (5000 BC – 2600 BC) are needed to be examined more properly.

Using this chronology 1074 subfossil trees have been dated. Temporal distribution of trees is attached (file “number”). Unfortunately, I can’t sign with confidence the belonging to certain species (larch or spruce) of each tree at present.

Ring width data of 539 dated subfossil trees and 17 living larches are attached (file “yamal.rwm”). Some samples measured on 2 or more radii. First letter means species (l- larch, p- spruce, _ – uncertain), last cipher – radius. These series are examined for missing rings. If you need all the dated individual series I can send the rest of data, but the others are don’t corrected as regards to missing rings.

Residuary 1098 subfossil trees don’t dated as yet. More than 200 of them have less than 60 rings, dating of such samples often is not confident. Great part undated wood remnants most likely older than 7000 years.

Some results (I think, the temperature reconstruction you will done better than me):

Millennium-scale changes of interannual tree growth variability havebeen discovered. There were periods of low (5000-2800 BC), middle (2800-1700 BC) and high interannual variability (1700 BC – to the present).

Exact dating of hundreds of subfossil trees gave a chance to clear up the temporal distribution of trees abundance, age structure, frequency of trees deaths and appearances during last seven millennia. Assessment of polar tree line changes has been carried out by mapping of dated subfossil trees.

According to reconsructions most favorable conditions for tree growth have been marked during 5000-1700 BC. At that time position of tree line was far northward of recent one. [Unfortunately, region of our research don’t include the whole area where trees grew during the Holocene. We can maintain that before 1700 BC tree line was northward of our research area. We have only 3 dated remnants of trees from Yuribey River sampled by our colleagues (70 km to the north from recent polar tree line) that grew during 4200-4016 and 3330-2986 BC.]

This period is pointed out by low interannual variability of tree growth and high trees abundance discontinued, however, by several short (50-100 years) unfavorable periods, most significant of them dated about 4060-3990 BC. Since about 2800 BC gradual worsening of tree growth condition has begun. Significant shift of the polar tree line to the south have been fixed between 1700 and 1600 BC. At the same time interannual tree growth variability increased appreciably. During last 3600 years most of reconstructed indices have been varying not so very significant. Tree line has been shifting within 3-5 km near recent one. Low abundance of trees has been fixed during 1410-1250 BC and 500-350 BC. Relatively high number of trees has been noted during 750-1450 AD.

There are no evidences of moving polar timberline to the north during last century.

Please, let me know if you need more data or detailed report.

Best regards,

Rashit Hantemirov

Lab. of Dendrochronology

Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology

8 Marta St., 202

Ekaterinburg, 620144, Russia

e-mail: rashit@xxxxxxxxx

Fax: xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Whatever climatic variation is occurring in the present day, at least in terms of its impact on the Arctic, is insignificant compared to natural variation which occurred in past millennia of the Holocene, or even within the last 1000 years.

77 thoughts on “Claim: Climate is killing off the Reindeer

  1. Will reindeer replace polar bear as the new mascot for the global warming movement? Since the polar bears didn’t die off as expected.

  2. Luckily for Alaskan caribou, the pipeline allows them to calve without their newborns freezing. Caribou population has exploded since the pipeline.

  3. Weren’t these the same reindeer that died of anthrax? The earlier post and discussion on that subject got into the recent increase in the size of the herd, and discontinuance of anthrax immunization, etc. Further, Briffa and the notion a “treemometer” is something of a bete noir, or am I seriously mistaken?

  4. The email shows that in 1998 Briffa was clearly told there was no evidence of warming in the Yamal Peninsula. He then cooked up his thing.
    I don’t understand why Briffa isn’t in jail.

    • Climate change or CO2 global warming is a continuation if yhe radiation narrative. One was used to slow nuclear power development. The other is the counter attack.

  5. This announcement is just in time for the Christmas season. Facts don’t matter when you are trying to scare the little tots into supporting your agenda.

  6. It’s true that we are not living in our grandparents’ climate.
    What they don’t mention is that our grandparents were not living in their grandarents’ climate.

  7. I just hope that Greens take The Reindeer as a new Mascot. They would shoot their remaining leg off because here in Finland the real reason of reindeer problem is well known: There just are too many reindeers that eat everything in their path.Their population is already too big.

    • That sounds like a clear signal to increase reindeer sausage production.
      I don’t know anything about Finland’s reindeer issues. All I know about modern Finland is that they build fine Sako rifles and make Vihtavuori rifle powder and Lapua bullets and brass cases, all highly sought after, here in the USA. Looks like there might be a solution in there somewhere.

  8. Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    The Forbes et al. reindeer study would not have made the esteemed pages of WUWT, nor received government funding and grants without prefacing the study with “climate change”.
    I detect a (lucrative) pattern.
    Nuff said.

  9. Climate change does seem to be correlated well with one phenomenon.
    The more we are lied to, the more anti-establishment political decisions are being made…

  10. A few years back, that fraud, Suzuki, scared kids with a disgusting Christmas webpage that told kids to send money because the Noth Pole was melting and the elves and Santa were drowning.
    Oh geez, now the fruit fly guy will be demanding money to save Rudolph and his buddies. 😊

  11. “Tens of thousands of reindeer in Arctic Russia starved to death in 2006 and 2013 because of unusual weather linked to global warming. The same conditions in the first half of November led to both famines, which killed 20,000 deer in 2006 and 61,000 in 2013.”
    From the Wikipedia entry on Reindeer
    Rangifer tarandus by country
    In 2013, the Taimyr herd in Russia was the largest herd in the world. In 2000, the herd increased to 1,000,000 but by 2009, there were 700,000 animals.[53][59] In the 1950s, there were 110,000.[60]
    There are three large herds of migratory tundra wild reindeer in central Siberia’s Yakutia region: Lena-Olenek, Yana-Indigirka and Sundrun herds. While the population of the Lena-Olenek herd is stable, the others are declining.[60]
    Further east again, the Chukotka herd is also in decline. In 1971, there were 587,000 animals. They recovered after a severe decline in 1986, to only 32,200 individuals, but their numbers fell again.[61] According to Kolpashikov, by 2009 there were less than 70,000.[60]
    Almost by definition Reindeer habitat is some of least hospitable real estate on Earth. Even though many reindeer are parts of at least semi-domesticated herds, they are subject to a wide variety of highly variable survivability factors which has lead to their wildly various population numbers over the years. These clucks take to events and in the well established pattern of climate alarmism create a projection of inevitable extinction.
    I don’t think so.

  12. When there is a lack of food and water for the kangaroos in the drier parts of Australia, they move towards the regions that have an ample suppl; the same goes for our emus. I suspect that the reindeer are equally intelligent creatures and will move to get a feed.
    There are times when I have to get off the couch -due to a lack of fodder; and find myself with ample, just a short walk away. 🙂

  13. The problem is, the Reindeer now “identify” as Polar Bears and are not quit sure which bathroom to use. !

  14. Come on people, all the childish AGW advocates are after is to be able to point fingers and chant something nasty

    You killed Bambi!

    Are you prepared for the real imagined hurt that is going to cause?

  15. Reindeer got themselves to blame, they produce lot of dung.
    Arctic ice was supposed to disappear by the last September, but it didn’t.
    Since all climate models show that should have been the case, there must be a good reason for it not doing so,
    The cause is sh i t, yes birds’ sh i t
    “A team of researchers with members from Canada, Sweden and U.S. has found that bird excrement may be playing a role in cooling the Arctic during its warmer months.”

  16. It is a good thing that 61,000 is a spit in the ocean of the deer population.
    “Tens of thousands of reindeer in Arctic Russia starved to death in 2006 and 2013 because of unusual weather linked to global warming.”
    It is interesting that they haven’t worried much about the millions of domestic animals that died in Mongolia that same year for the same reason (2006).
    It is a natural event and if the globe warms or cools, the date at which it happens shifts. I was told by a Masters student yesterday that the temperature somewhere in Mongolia this week is -47C which is easily a month or two early. It is going to be a terrible year.
    Freezing to death is no better than starving to death. The record cold for Ulaanbaatar was set years ago (2002?) and it is hoped it will not return. ROS is a major killer. So is terrible cold. There is not the slightest indication that ROS events are ’caused by anthropogenic global warming’ or made worse by that effect, should it one day be determined to exist.
    When it is warmer reindeer do very much better because there is so much more to eat. Duh.

    • Griff
      Do you think the mass death from starvation of animals in Mongolia the same year, also from ROS, was cause by the retreat of sea ice?
      As you have pointed out, the sea ice retreat has been inexorable, pretty much, yet the conditions it supposedly spawns are no more frequent than they were before.
      When I visited Mongolia in the winter of 2007 there were collection plates out in offices to collect money for buying animals for those who lost their entire herds because of ROS. Thus it is not a Siberian thing, it is not a sea ice thing, it is not a temperature thing, it is a weather thing. Life’s a bitch in the North, and then you die.

      • Crispin,
        Out of curiosity, I was interested in trying to find an estimate of the total reindeer population and see how that compared with the number of deaths reported. I was also trying to find a somewhat non-biased/less biased website that would not skew towards the global warming BS. while searching, I came across this from NOAA:
        Couple quotes from the report:

        Local and traditional knowledge has indicated that caribou go through periods of abundance and scarcity every 40-60 years. However, relatively objective population estimates have only been employed since the late 1960s and early 1970s. These estimates have shown one single “cycle” over the last 40 years. This cycle is “somewhat” synchronous around the Arctic, although there is a lot of individual herd variation.


        There has been considerable concern that declining numbers of caribou in the last decade were associated with global warming (Vors and Boyce 2009); however, no clear link between individual herd declines and climate was ever established.

        Interesting, apparently objective comments from NOAA not blaming climate change (they actually said global warming).

      • In Griff’s mind, anything that supports his religious beliefs is instantly promoted to indisputable.
        Like his weird belief that sea ice is on some kind of continuous declining trend.

    • Freezing rain in winter has always been the bane of caribou. Peter Freuchen tells in his memories (Min grønlandske ungdom, 1936) that when he and Knud Rasmussen founded the Thule trading post in 1910 there were virtually no caribou in Northwest Greenland. They had all starved to death a few years earlier after a heavy rain in winter.

    • Griff, you never have any doubt. It must be wonderful to be so absolutely certain of every little thing. I, on the other hand, are only certain of one thing.
      Isn’t it time for you to change your username and begin pretending to be someone else?

  17. “We behold the face of nature bright with gladness, we often see superabundance of food; we do not see or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing round us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life; or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds or beasts of prey; we do not always bear in mind, that, though food may now be superabundant, it is not so at all seasons of each recurring year.”
    “A struggle for existence inevitably follows from the high rate at which at which all organic beings tend to increase. Every being, which during its natural lifetime produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of its life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometric increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product.”
    “But we have better evidence on this subject than mere theoretical calculations, namely, the numerous recorded cases of the astonishingly rapid increase of various animals in a state of nature, when circumstances have been favorable to then during two or three following seasons.”
    -Charlie Darwin
    Where did this strange idea of stable populations come from?

  18. In 1992 and 1993, I spent time on the NWT north of Yellowknife. Amzing to see tens of thosands of caribou over a few days. Just WOW!
    In 2014, I was fortunate to spend one week on the Bothia Penn. We saw a few caribou. Three elders independently told me thee were far fewer caribou because the Inuit were over hunting. Just killing too many.

  19. Without getting into a lot of useless details:
    — Reindeer are migratory animals (they can migrate up to 3000 km in a year). That means that they go to where the food is. However, these are domesticated herds which means that they are limited in their range. I suspect that has more to do with this problem than anything else.
    — The type of weather pattern reported here repeats about once every decade. Bruce Forbes has been studying in the region for 30 years. I don’t believe there is any long term tracking of this sort of weather event to determine if it is increasing or stable.
    — There is a link between these events and Ocean Oscillations, as you would expect — “The severe events of 2006 and 2013 both occurred when the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) was in its ‘positive’ phase, meaning that warmer winters are more likely.”
    — The recommended solution to this problem is more mobile slaughterhouses (which is sort of funny if you think about it.) ‘The prognosis is uncertain in terms of when another such event might occur,’ Research Professor Bruce Forbes, from the university’s Arctic Centre, told The Siberian Times. ‘However, we propose in the paper that more mobile slaughterhouses should be deployed on Yamal. … In the most recent event of 2013 many smaller private herds not only lost all their animals, but received no monetary compensation because the animals starved on the tundra.’
    — The entire theory is based on the increases of “Rain on Snow” events (ROS). Basically ROS events are rare north of the Arctic Circle, but more common south of it. The reindeer can dig through snow to eat, but not more than 2 cm of ice. With this in mind, migration may not be a solution as the obvious direction is to migrate south. The data is only available from satellite observations from 2001 to 2008 and by anecdotal memories from the local Yamal and Nenets.
    Here is the original research paper:

  20. The authors state that “this is the first study to propose a link between brief but spatially significant retreat of November sea ice and massive ROS events over the Russian mainland.” In particular they describe the 2013 event and mention BKS sea ice loss in Nov 5-10 2013, referencing figure S4 in the electronic supplementary material. I don’t see any figures following the link to the electronic supplementary material (user error?), but the NSDIC MASIE regional charts happily are showing early November right now for the past five years.
    The Barents Sea shows extent reducing steadily from about 120K km2 on Nov 2 to about 60K km2 on Nov 7, then rising up to about 100K km2 on Nov 9 before falling back to 90K km2 on Nov 10. While these movements are large as a percentage, neither the rate of change nor the area seems at all exceptional over the period shown. While 2014 has substantial extent in Mid Oct – Mid Nov, the other four years are all between 0 and 140 km2 during this period, and temporary declines are common. Further, the sea ice extent on Nov 10 is actually slightly *higher* than the extent on Nov 5. 2013 is actually the second or third highest throughout Nov 5 – Nov 10th.
    BKS also includes the Kara Sea, and here we see extent reducing steadily from about 800K km2 on Nov 2 to about 725K km2 on Nov 7, then increasing to a bit over 750K km2 on Nov 9th and nearly the same on the 10th. Again the Nov 2 – Nov 7 decline doesn’t seem exceptional on the chart in either slope or magnitude, and again the Nov 10th extent is actually a bit *higher* than on Nov 5. 2013 is the second highest year depicted, not far behind 2014 — both 2016 and 2012 are much lower.
    Now it’s possible that figure S4 shows something dramatically different and truly exceptional, due to a different source or metric. But in order to justify a link between very rare massive ROS events and brief sea ice retreats, I wouldn’t expect the brief sea retreats associated with massive ROS events (a grand sample of two) to look unexceptional in any source. Perhaps this paper is the “first study to propose a link” between brief sea ice retreats and massive ROS events for good reason.

  21. “……..Tens of thousands of reindeer in Arctic Russia starved to death in 2006 and 2013 because of unusual weather linked to global warming……..”.
    It is that simple isn’t it. Just mention the word “linked”. No explanation just an assumption! How many tens of thousands by the way? It wouldn’t take too many of that magnitude to wipe them out.
    Imprecise garbage and let us hope that they will be called on these studies sooner rather than later. Maybe next year?

  22. Here in Finland. Lapland, we have problems wiyh reindeers. They are TOO MANY and they eat everything to end so they are practically starwing because of overpopulation.
    Article is in finnish. Only inside fences there are groving natural food or Norvegian which is also protected by fences.

Comments are closed.