Jolly Old St. Nick depends on his team of reindeer to complete his Christmas rounds on time. But new research indicates that, because of the worlds changing climate, Santa might want to start thinking of new ways to power his sleigh.
Reindeer graze on the island of Spitsbergen, one area being affected by more rain-on-snow events that can cut the animals off from their food supply. (Photo credit: Jaakko Putkonen)
Scientists have long known that rain falling on snow in the far northern latitudes during winter months can play havoc with herds of hoofed animals – primarily reindeer, caribou and musk ox – that feed on lichens and mosses growing on the soil surface. In one recent instance on the far-north island of Spitsbergen, soil temperatures that normally stay well below freezing in winter months rose to near freezing and remained there for 10 days or so because rainwater seeped through the snow and water pooled at the soil surface. Finally the water froze, so soil temperatures dropped again, but the ice coating kept the animals from their food supply.
"You have an ice layer at the surface several centimeters thick that even a person couldnt get through without tools," said Jaakko Putkonen, a research assistant professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington.
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