More than 200 reindeer have been found dead this summer in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard – and climate change appears to be the killer, researchers say.
The reindeer likely starved to death after being unable to find food to graze on, according to scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), a federal scientific research agency that monitors the wild reindeer population.
“Never before have (researchers) seen so many cadavers at once,” Norway’s public broadcaster NRK said.
Experts say that Svalbard is on the front lines of the climate crisis.
“Svalbard is among the areas that most clearly notices climate change, which has consequences for the animals living here,” NPI stated.
Longyearbyen, the world’s northernmost town and the capital of Svalbard, is probably warming faster than any other town on Earth, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.
That’s because of accelerated Arctic warming – rising temperatures reduce ice and snow cover, which means less sunlight is reflected and more solar energy is absorbed, restarting the cycle.
Reindeer populations have declined globally by 56% since the mid-1990s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 Arctic Report Card.
Reindeer aren’t the only Arctic animals suffering the effects of climate change in Norway. When sea ice melts, polar bears isolated on ice floes similarly risk starvation.
A team of three scientists spent 10 weeks investigating the reindeer population, which the NPI has been monitoring for 40 years.
The area has been unusually rainy since, causing the ground to become icy and tough to penetrate, NPI stated on Instagram. As a result, the reindeer probably couldn’t dig through to reach the pastures buried below.
The relatively large number of calves born last year exacerbated the problem. The youngest and weakest animals are often the first to die in harsh conditions like these, according to the Institute.
“Starving reindeer are now a common sight,” Kim Holmen, international director of the NPI, told CNN earlier this year.
Svalbard is also known as the location of the Global Seed Vault, where hundreds of thousands of varieties of seeds are preserved in a facility dug into a mountain to safeguard the world’s plants from disaster.