By Georgina Wade
A new report from the American Geophysical Research Union (AGU) finds that the population of caribou in the Arctic has crashed by more than half in the last two decades, falling from 5 million to around 2.1 million animals.
The findings reveal that changes in weather patterns and vegetation are making the Arctic tundra a much less hospitable place for the species. And while reindeer and caribou are the same species (caribou were never domesticated and tend to be much bigger), it’s the wild caribou herds in northern Canada and Alaska that are faring the worst. To date, herds have shrunk by more than 90 percent,a decline so drastic that “that recovery isn’t in sight”, the 2018 NOAA Arctic Report Card stated.
Prof Howard Epstein, an environmental scientist from the University of Virginia and one of the many scientists involved in the research behind the Arctic Report Card, warned that warming in the region shows no signs of abating. “We see increased drought in some areas due to climate warming, and the warming itself leads to a change in vegetation.”
Increases in the number of insects are also a problem. “If it’s warm and windy, the insects are oppressive, and these animals spend so much energy either getting the insects off of them or finding places where they can hide from insects,” Epstein explained.
And while carbon emissions can be reduced at a global scale in an attempt to limit the temperature increase and save the species, the growing pile of evidence suggests warming in the Arctic will continue. Additionally, scientists at AGU have revealed that East Antarctica’s glaciers have begun to “wake up” and show a response to the warming. NASA says that it has detected the first signs of significant melting in a swathe of glaciers in East Antarctica, adding to the mounting evidence of unprecedented climate-driven change at the top and bottom of the planet and signifying the opening of the “world’s freezer”.