Image: National Park Service


Just imagine: What if millions of people moved to the Arctic and devoted their lives to engineering a landscape that could help offset the global impacts of climate change?

Something kind of like that is already happening. Reindeer, say scientists, may alter Arctic landscapes in profound and climate-helpful ways. Their foraging habits change the tundra’s surface so that it reflects rather than absorbs sunlight.

In other words, reindeer—or caribou, as they’re known in North America—apply sunscreen to an overheating planet.

“Reindeer have a potential cooling effect on climate,” write researchers led by ecologists Mariska te Beest and Johan Olofsson of Sweden’s Umeå University in the journal Environmental Research Letters. “Herbivore management could be a potential tool to mitigate future warming.”

At their study site in far northern Norway, where Sámi herders manage vast semi-wild reindeer herds, the researchers fenced tundra plots to permit different grazing intensities. There they measured vegetation change, albedo (a technical word for reflectivity), and near-surface temperatures over the course of a summer.

Where reindeer grazed on shrubs, grasses grew in their place. Grasses, being comparatively thin and light-colored, absorb far less energy than dark, broad-leafed shrubs. The resulting difference in albedo was so dramatic that, at high grazing densities, reindeer reduced local heating by an amount equivalent to what’s expected from the doubling of Earth’s carbon dioxide levels.

This does not mean, cautioned Olofsson, that reindeer alone can offset global warming. “While a doubling of CO2 concentrations is very realistic,” he says, “having an extremely high grazing pressure over the whole Arctic for 50 years is not. The maximal potential effect will not be fully realised.”

That said, it remains to be determined just how much of that potential effect reindeer and caribou can provide. After all, they range in thousands-strong herds across much of the Arctic—and if vegetation only needs to be munched every few years, rather than every summer, the area affected would be vast.

This would be welcome news for the Arctic, where a proliferation of warmth-loving shrubs has raised concerns about feedback loops similar to what’s observed in the Arctic Ocean; in that case, melting sea ice reveals dark waters that heat up and accelerate the melt. And the effects might be global: scientists have theorized that Arctic heating affects mid-latitude regions by disrupting the jet stream, that vast river of air which flows from west to east around the northern hemisphere and shapes our weather patterns. That disruption generates extended temperate-zone heat waves and cold snaps.

Lots of Arctic reindeer and caribou, then, could mean better weather elsewhere. Unfortunately their populations are in sharp decline, having shrunk by one-third since the 1990s. The reasons are not fully understood, but an expanded human footprint—especially mining and fuel-extraction operations that disrupt migration routes and degrade important habitat—isn’t helping.

“In order to supply the ecosystem service,” said Olofsson, “reindeer and caribou need to have good conditions.”


Jan 11, 2017

ref: te Beest et al. “Reindeer grazing increases summer albedo by reducing shrub abundance in Arctic tundra.” Environmental Research Letters, 2016.


original story HERE


If you would like to share this blog story on Facebook with one easy click, scroll down to the very bottom of this page and look for the SHARE button along with the Facebook LIKE button under the "Sign up to Learn About & Help End Global Warming” boxed area where people enter their email address. You do not need to enter any email address to use the one click Facebook SHARE button.

Get more of The Global Warming Blog. Bookmark this page and signup for the blog’s free RSS Feed. Sign up for free Global Warming Blog by clicking here. You will automatically be emailed a regular summary of the latest global warming headlines.

To learn about more about global warming, climate change or greenhouse gases as well as the causes, consequences, solutions, definitions, facts and tipping points related to these subjects, click here.
To see our most current positions, opinions, comments, agreement or disagreement with this article, and/or possible criticisms related to the subjects or facts raised in the above article, click here.  Then look for those subjects in the navigation links at the top the page.

To sign a critical petition for declaring an international global warming State of Emergency, click  here!

To help do something about the climate change and global warming emergency, click here.

Sign up for our free Global Warming Blog by clicking here. (In your email, you will receive critical news, research, and the warning signs for the next global warming disaster.)

To share this blog post: Go to the Share button to the left below.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
Get More Info Here Take Action Support Our Mission

Subscribe to Our Global Warming Blog


Subscribe to Our Global Warming Blog