The effects of climate change on Earth’s ecosystems are continuing to rear their head, as new research shows more than 80,000 reindeer died between 2006 and 2013 in Arctic Russia due to unusual weather patterns linked to climate change. New Scientist reports that the retreat of sea ice and unseasonably warm temperatures that have contributed to heavy rains, freezing snow cover for months, have effectively cut off the reindeers’ staples of lichen and other vegetation.


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“Reindeer are used to sporadic ice cover, and adult males can normally smash through ice around 2 centimeters thick,’ said study leader Bruce Forbes of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland. “But in 2006 and 2013, the ice was several tens of centimeters thick.” With this past September presenting the second-lowest level of sea ice cover ever recorded in the Arctic, Forbes fears there could be yet another famine. “If we see such events again this year, it could mean that they’re becoming more frequent,” Forbes told New Scientist. “Now is the risk window, and if it happens again, it will be a major problem for traditional reindeer herders still suffering from losses in 2013.”

Related: Bad news for Santa: Reindeer populations decline as the world’s climate warms

If this year turns out to be another bad food year for the reindeer, it will be a doubly difficult season for the ungulates, as authorities have planned a massive cull of up to 250,000 reindeer this Christmas to address overgrazing and an outbreak of anthrax amongst herds. One child died this past August and 90 people were sent to hospital as a result of an outbreak that was blamed on a thawed reindeer corpse infected with anthrax.

Via New Scientist

Images via Alexandre Buisse and Bjorn Christian Torrisen, Wikimedia Commons