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.”
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.
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
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.
Lab. of Dendrochronology
Institute of Plant and Animal Ecology
8 Marta St., 202
Ekaterinburg, 620144, Russia
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.