Will Santa be able to take to the skies this year? Global warming is being blamed for shrinking reindeers

  • The average weight of reindeer in northern Norway has decreased since 1990s
  • Once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice
  • This makes it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food in the winter

Santa may have trouble taking to the skies this year, as it appears that reindeer are shrinking in the Arctic near the North Pole.

Researchers say that the animals are shrinking in a side-effect of climate change that has curbed winter food for the animals. 

The average weight of adult reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, has fallen to 48 kg (106 lb) from 55 kg (121 lb) in the 1990s as part of sweeping changes to Arctic life as temperatures rise. 

The average weight of adult reindeer on Svalbard, a chain of islands north of Norway, has fallen to 48 kg (106 lb) from 55 kg (121 lb) in the 1990s as part of sweeping changes to Arctic life as temperatures rise (stock image) 

ANIMALS IN SVALBARD

Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the world average amid a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Most studies of global warming around Svalbard have focused on polar bears that hunt seals at sea, rather than year-round land residents led by reindeer, Arctic foxes and Svalbard rock ptarmigan birds.

Arctic fox numbers have risen slightly because they thrive in severe ice winters by scavenging dead reindeer. 

The research comes from ecologists at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland. 

Professor Steve Albon, who led the study, said: 'Warmer summers are great for reindeer but winters are getting increasingly tough.'

Less chilly winters mean that once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice, making it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food. 

Some reindeer starve and females often give birth to stunted young.

In summer, however, plants flourish in a food bonanza that ensures healthy females are more likely to conceive in autumn - a pregnancy lasts about seven months. 

The wild herd studied had expanded to about 1,400 animals from 800 since the 1990s.

'So far we have more but smaller reindeer,' Professor Albon said of reindeer on Svalbard, about 800 miles (1,300 km) from the North Pole. 

The rising population also means more competition for scarce food in winter. 

Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the world average amid a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Most studies of global warming around Svalbard have focused on polar bears that hunt seals at sea, rather than year-round land residents led by reindeer, Arctic foxes and Svalbard rock ptarmigan birds.

Less chilly winters mean that once-reliable snows fall more often as rain that can freeze into a sheet of ice, making it harder for the herbivores to reach plant food

Arctic fox numbers have risen slightly because they thrive in severe ice winters by scavenging dead reindeer, said Eva Fuglei, a researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Fram Centre who was not involved in the reindeer study.

'All the weak reindeer die - the sick, the elderly and calves,' she said. 

But that means foxes struggle to feed the next winter because only the fittest adult reindeer have survived.

WILL POLAR BEARS DISAPPEAR? 

Polar bear numbers are expected to collapse by a third in as little as 35 years as ice melts in the Arctic, a study found.

The drop in numbers will reduce the world population of the bears from around 26,000 to 17,000.

Researchers put the probability off a steep fall of around 30 per cent over the next three generations of bears at 71 per cent.

The researchers put the time frame of between 35 and 41 years. 

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