Recent research suggests that climate change has affected the reindeer food supply, causing the death of thousands of animals. According to Bruce Forbes, lead author from the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, adult males can easily smash a 2-centimeter thick ice layer, but in 2006 and 2013, the layer was more than 30 centimeters thick.
He believes that if these events occur this year as well, it means that they will become more frequent. Forbes underlines that the ones who will be most affected by climate change are reindeer herders who depend on these animals to survive.
Back in 2013, roughly 61,000 specimens died, accounting for over twenty percent of the reindeer population in Yamal Peninsula. More precisely, there are currently 275,000 specimens, but this number might be cut in half in case of a major weather event.
According to the 2013 reports, the ice concentration and coverage in the Kara and Barents seas were quite low, whereas the atmospheric humidity was very high. On November 8th, 2013, the herders reported that it rained for about 24 hours.
Then, the freezing temperatures led to the development of a thick layer of ice. As a consequence, thousands of reindeer died of starvation, while the herders had to rely on fishing to survive the winter.
If such an event occurs again this year, up to 250,000 reindeer may die. It is worth mentioning that an anthrax outbreak has also taken its toll on the animals. In August, one child died, and 90 other people were hospitalized due to an outbreak caused by the thawing of a dead reindeer infected with anthrax.
In the end, the Russian officials decided to vaccinate every herd in the contaminated region to stop the outbreak. According to Ed Blockley, a researcher from the Polar Climate Group, the study findings point to the fact that the Artic ecosystems are very fragile and sensitive to temperature changes.
A 24-hour rain, followed by freezing temperatures can create the ideal conditions for the development of a thick layer of ice which can cause thousands of reindeer to die of starvation. In normal weather conditions, these animals can dig under the snow to reach lichen and other plants that usually help them survive the winter.
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