200 Reindeer Dead In 'Fastest Warming Town On Earth'
Hundreds of reindeer carcasses have been discovered on the Norwegian island of Svalbard and scientists have pointed the finger at climate change.
Every year a group of researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) wander around an archipelago of glaciers between Norway and the North Pole for 10 weeks. Their primary role is to keep track of the reindeer population, a task that proved very bleak this year.
The remains of 200 reindeer were found on the Arctic islands, one of the highest death rates logged in 40 years of population monitoring.
"It is scary to find so many dead animals," ecologist Åshild Ønvik Pedersen told local news outlet NRK. "This is a terrifying example of how climate change affects nature."
The climate in Svalbard has changed dramatically over the past 30-40 years.
According to NPI, it is one of the "most clearly marked by climate change" which is affecting the animals that live there.
It's a claim that has been backed by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute which said that Longyearbyen, Svalbard's capital, looks to be warming faster than any other town on Earth.
The annual mean temperature has risen by 3.7 degrees Celsius since 1900, "which is about three times the estimated global warming during the same period," the report reads.
The milder temperatures have resulted in unusually heavy rainfall in December, which left a thick layer of ice when the water froze over, preventing the deer from reaching vegetation.
They can dig through snow for food but not ice.
The deer have subsequently been observed eating seaweed and kelp which doesn't provide the animals with the requisite nutrients.
They have also been grazing on steep cliffs, which the animals rarely do during winter, according to researchers.
Pedersen said that a high number of calves born last year were partly to blame for the spike in deaths because the smallest and weakest are often the first to die.
"But the large number we see now is due to heavy rainfall, which is due to global warming," she said.
If Svalbard sounds familiar, it is probably because it's also the home of the Global Seed Vault where close to a million varieties of seeds are stored.
The so-called 'doomsday vault' is said to be indestructible, protecting the contents from sunlight, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and even warfare.
The group calls it the "ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply.”
But there are fears it too may be affected by climate change.