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Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes

By The Siberian Times reporter
17 November 2016

New study predicts potential crises for herds after examining 81,000 animal losses after Yamal was carpeted with winter-long impenetrable ice.

Scientists investigated in detail two herd wipeouts in the last decade on the Yamal peninsula in which 20,000 and 61,000 reindeer were lost. Picture: The Siberian Times

The new research seeks to prevent carnage to reindeer herds, and save a remarkable ancient way of nomadic life, by proposing real-time monitoring of the ice cover in the Barents and Kara seas.

Scientists investigated in detail two herd wipeouts in the last decade - in 2006 and more seriously in 2013 - on the Yamal peninsula in which 20,000 and 61,000 reindeer were lost.

In both cases the cause was the sudden arrival of thick ice which the reindeer could not penetrate with their hooves to forage for food. 

After early snowfalls, temperatures suddenly warmed, and rain deluged down on the lying snow. Then temperatures abruptly sank again, freezing a thick layer of ice which remained all winter long, smothering the reindeer pastures. 

Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  
"The reason the 2013 event was so catastrophic was that heavy rains saturated much of the snow cover from top to bottom, so when air temperatures plummeted the pastures were frozen beneath a thick, heavy layer of ice." Picture: The Siberian Times


Why? They conclude: 'The likely trigger was brief periods of Barents and Kara sea ice retreat during early November.'

The researchers warn that 'these events are now increasing in severity' but also say, intriguingly, that there could be up to two days' notice of their arrival, by closely watching ice cover in two Arctic seas. 

They also suggest the climate change is behind these episodes which lave reindeer helpless: they can stamp through ice 2 centimetres thick to feed on nutritious lichen and plants, but in these years the ice was up to three times as thick.   

'The most recent rain-on-snow event of November 2013 resulted in 61,000 reindeer deaths, about 22% out of 275,000 reindeer on the Yamal Peninsula,' said a statement from the University of Lapland in Finland.

Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  


Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  


Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  


Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  


Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  
Winter 2013. Pictures: Roma Seroletto, The Siberian Times


'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. 

'With our analysis we believe short-term forecasting that gives just a couple of days warning might be possible if the Barents and Kara sea ice extent were to be monitored in real time. 

'Even a couple of days warning could be critically important to get the mobile slaughterhouses to herds at risk in time. 

'That way, reindeer could be humanely slaughtered and the meat sold to market so that herders would at least receive from profit. 

'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 ice overs cause major hardship to nomadic herders, and threaten their way of life. 

Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  


Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  


Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  
"We should at least expect that when the positive phase returns, Yamal (and Nenets) should be considered at high risk for another severe rain-on-snow event." Pictures: The Siberian Times


This year they have faced a separate threat, but also one seen as being caused by climate change: the unlocking of decades-old deadly anthrax from the thawing permafrost in a uniquely hot Arctic summer, which killed one boy and 2,349 reindeer. 

But now Professor Forbes and colleagues from a number of major Western universities warn that these rain-on-snow events can be expected to get more intense. 

This means 'heavy rain' for a longer period 'over a much larger area than previously', he said. 

Comparing 2013 to 2006, he said: 'Instead of a crust forming on the surface of the snow, the snowpack was saturated from top to bottom. The air temperature dropped right after the snow froze into a solid block from top to bottom, and frozen to the ground beneath. That is the most severe case. 

'Modeling projects that such severe events are likely to become more frequent in the future, but so far - according to Yamal Nenets oral histories we collected - the major events are limited to about once per decade.'

The researchers gathered information from as many as 60 herders and local administrators. Their concerns are stark.

'The heavy ice crusts that form after the rain on mainland tundra reindeer rangelands are having long-term and serious effects on the indigenous tribe of around 6,000 Yamal Nenets (peoples), who are among the last truly nomadic reindeer herders in the Arctic,' they warn. 

'Hard and thick ice crusts make it extremely difficult for reindeer to dig through the snow, and the longer that such crusts persist through the winter, the weaker animals become.'

Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  


Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  

The warning is that these rain-on-snow events can be expected to get more intense. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Herders can move their semi-domesticated reindeer across distances of up to 1200 km annually.

Professor Forbes said: 'In a normal year, crusted snow patches are common, but herds can be relatively easily led to nearby areas with softer snow.

'The reason the 2013 event was so catastrophic was that heavy rains saturated much of the snow cover from top to bottom, so when air temperatures plummeted the pastures were frozen beneath a thick, heavy layer of ice. 

'This left animals locked completely out of pastures across the entire southern Yamal Peninsula, an area covering some 27 000 square kilometres.'

The events of 2006 and 2013 occurred between the same dates: 5-10 November. The herders reported 24 hours of rain on 8 November 2013, swiftly followed by freezing temperatures throughout the rest of the winter. 

Those who lost their reindeer through starvation were forced to resort to fishing, while also borrowing breeding stock to rebuild their herds.  

Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  

Mass reindeer deaths if no early warning system for 'climate change' freak freezes  
Winter 2013. Pictures: Vesti Yamal 


Asked if it is possible to predict new rain-on-snow 'events', he said: 'It may be. Our team's next step will be to do more modelling based on the empirical (i.e. observational) data we have so far. 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. 

'So, we should at least expect that when the positive phase returns, Yamal (and Nenets) should be considered at high risk for another severe rain-on-snow event.

'What we worry about, and herders expressed this concern clearly, is what will happen if another such event occurs before they have recovered from the 2013 event.

'The private herders who lost all their reindeer will need several years to rebuild their herds with enough draught animals to migrate with their families, their chums (moveable homes), and other belongings.'

The study entitled 'Sea ice, rain-on-snow and tundra reindeer nomadism in Arctic Russia' is published in Biology Letters.

The research team were from University of Lapland, University of Oxford, University of Eastern Finland, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Seoul National University, University of Maryland, University of Colorado, University College London, and Vienna University of Technology.

The research was part of the RISES and HUMANOR projects funded, respectively by the Academy of Finland and JPI Climate, and led by the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland. 

Comments (1)

let us just play make believe, pretend for a moment, that bazillions of gigatonnes of flammable methane is everywhere, as time goes on, the release rate intensifies, the shallow water, gets warm, and the real scary amounts of methane get flowing.

what happens when 4 million square miles of methane catches on fire?
bernie,, 30 degrees north, 90 West
18/11/2016 12:20
1
1
1

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