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Snow maps from space aid reindeer herders

  • Story Highlights
  • Sámi herders using satellite-based maps of snow to judge best areas
  • Climate change has made it harder to find foraging spots for reindeer herds
  • Technology could also be used to monitor land-use change over time
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(CNN) -- Arctic reindeer herders in northern Scandinavia are getting a view from space to help them look after their herds as the region copes with climate change.

Assimilated snow depth map. Red indicates deeper snow.

Snow worries: Satellite maps of snow coverage and melt can help reindeer herders.

Using satellite-based snow melt maps supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA) backed program Polar View, herders are able to view the depth of snow and judge where the best foraging spots are to take their reindeer.

"Snow is of paramount importance for reindeer herding, because its quality determines whether reindeer are able to access the pastures that lie beneath it for much of the year," Anders Oskal, the Director of the International Center for Reindeer Husbandry (ICR) told the ESA.

"Detailed circumpolar snow information is, thus, becoming increasingly important following the recent changes in the Arctic climate."

Oskal is working with Sámi reindeer herders in Finnmark, Norway, to help them maintain and develop sustainable reindeer husbandry.

According to Oskal, Finnmark is the area of Norway that is predicted to experience the largest temperature increases, raising concerns about whether ice layers will form over pastures preventing reindeer from foraging.

Under the Polar View initiative, Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) have been providing snow melt maps for Norway and Sweden, as well as snow cover maps for Eurasia, for the last 18 months.

The ICR partnered with Polar View in a trial of the maps to examine how satellite observations could help by gathering information on snow change in a timely manner for such vast circumpolar regions.

"The experience so far has definitely been positive, and the reindeer herders are extremely interested in the future utilization of Polar View products that can relate important information about local snow conditions," said Oskal.

"These products could have important consequences for herders' decisions regarding winter pasture quality and potential migration routes."

In addition to climate change, reindeer herders also have to face a loss of pastures because of infrastructure development, such as roads, hydroelectric power dams and cabin resorts.

The same technology would help the ICR to monitor the different forms of land-use change over time.

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