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Santa in Trouble? Reindeer are Shrinking on an Arctic Island due to Climate Change

Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the world average amid a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

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Santa Claus
FILE - A man dressed as Santa Claus rides his sleigh, pulled by a reindeer, as he prepares for Christmas on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, northern Finland, Dec. 19, 2007. VOA

Oslo, December 12, 2016: Reindeer are shrinking on an Arctic island near the North Pole in a side-effect of climate change that has curbed winter food for animals often depicted as pulling Father Christmas’ sleigh, scientists said on Monday.

The average weight of adult reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, has fallen to 48 kg (106 lb) from 55 kg (121 lb) in the 1990s as part of sweeping changes to Arctic life as temperatures rise, they said.

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“Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough,” Professor Steve Albon, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland who led the study with Norwegian researchers, told Reuters.

Less chilly winters mean that once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice, making it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food. Some reindeer starve and females often give birth to stunted young.

In summer, however, plants flourish in a food bonanza that ensures healthy females more likely to conceive in autumn – a pregnancy lasts about seven months. The wild herd studied had expanded to about 1,400 animals from 800 since the 1990s.

“So far we have more but smaller reindeer,” Albon said of reindeer on Svalbard, about 800 miles (1,300 km) from the North Pole. The rising population also means more competition for scarce food in winter.

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He noted that one popular children’s’ book, “Father Christmas” by Raymond Briggs, showed a sleigh pulled by two reindeer. If the animals are smaller and weaker, “will two reindeer be sufficient?” Albon asked.

Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the world average amid a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Most studies of global warming around Svalbard have focused on polar bears that hunt seals at sea, rather than year-round land residents led by reindeer, Arctic foxes and Svalbard rock
ptarmigan birds.

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Arctic fox numbers have risen slightly because they thrive in severe ice winters by scavenging dead reindeer, said Eva Fuglei, a researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Fram Center who was not involved in the reindeer study.

“All the weak reindeer die – the sick, the elderly and calves,” she told Reuters. But that means foxes struggle to feed the next winter because only the fittest adult reindeer have survived. (VOA)

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Rising Global Warming Temperatures Could Make Greenland Sand Exporter

The study said that sand and gravel might also be used in the future to reinforce beaches and coastlines.

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greenland, global warming
FILE - The Greenland ice sheet is seen in southeastern Greenland, Aug. 3, 2017. VOA

Greenland could start to export sand in a rare positive spinoff from global warming that is melting the island’s vast ice sheet and washing large amounts of sediment into the sea, scientists said Monday.

Mining of sand and gravel, widely used in the construction industry, could boost the economy for Greenland’s 56,000 population who have wide powers of self-rule within Denmark but rely heavily on subsidies from Copenhagen.

By mining sand, “Greenland could benefit from the challenges brought by climate change,” a team of scientists in Denmark and the United States wrote in the journal Nature Sustainability.

The study, headlined “Promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland,” said the Arctic island would have to assess risks of coastal mining, especially to fisheries.

Rising global temperatures are melting the Greenland ice sheet, which locks up enough water to raise global sea levels by about seven meters (23 ft) if it ever all thawed, and carrying ever more sand and gravel into coastal fjords.

Greenland
FILE – A man walks to his boat past a number of abandoned and dry-docked boats in the town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 15, 2018. VOA

“You can think of it [the melting ice] as a tap that pours out sediment to the coast,” said lead author Mette Bendixen, a researcher at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

Worldwide demand for sand totaled about 9.55 billion tons in 2017 with a market value of $99.5 billion and is projected to reach almost $481 billion in 2100, driven by rising demand and likely shortages, the study said.

That meant a rare opportunity for the island.

“Normally the Arctic peoples are among those who really feel climate change — the eroding coast, less permafrost,” said Bendixen. “This is a unique situation because of the melting ice sheet.”

David Boertmann of Aarhus University, who was not involved in the study, said there was already some local mining of sand for the domestic construction industry in Greenland.

Drawbacks for Greenland, common to other mining projects on the island ranging from uranium to rare earth minerals, include the distance to markets in Europe and North America, he said.

Still, Bendixen said sand was already often transported long distances, such as to Los Angeles from Vancouver or from Australia to Dubai.

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The study said that sand and gravel might also be used in the future to reinforce beaches and coastlines. The study said that sand and gravel might also be used in the future to reinforce beaches and coastlines

“At the moment it is an inexpensive resource, but it will become more expensive,” she said.

The study said that sand and gravel might also be used in the future to reinforce beaches and coastlines at risk of rising sea levels, caused in part by Greenland’s thaw. (VOA)