Rising Temperatures Threaten Muskox and other Arctic Animals

"musk ox pair" by U.S Fish and Wildness Service is licensed under Creative Commons

by Ethan Gathman

The arctics are not known for their welcoming weather and conditions. Its prolonged periods of bitter cold and darkness makes life difficult for any animal or plant that tries to live there.

Aside from its regular harsh conditions, the Arctic is also prone to the unusual polar phenomenon that put the lives there at even greater risk. One of these natural phenomena is called a Sassat. The word is Inuktitut, a main language of the Inuit People of North America, its translation is, “concentrated animals offered as food.”

The Inuit People typically used this word to describe the natural occurrence of ice rapidly forming over water, trapping the animals beneath. But it has been used to detail a wide array of similar scenarios. An example is an incident from 2011 when a frozen tsunami killed 52 muskoxen.

Weather phenomena such as these were once very rare, but as climate change becomes an ever-evolving issue, the occurrences of these “arctic flash storms” have increased. The most dangerous of these storms isn’t the frozen tsunami or the ice entrapment, though. It’s rain.  

Because temperatures fluctuate more rapidly in the arctics now, it’s beginning rain during the winter. These weather changes occur at the turn of a dime and what could once be a field covered with precipitation can instantly change into a world of ice. This is incredibly bad for any vegetation growing in these areas, being instantly transformed into ice will kill it, rendering it useless to the animals that rely on it for food.

The effects of these rainstorms are already being felt. A decade-long study by Joel Berger, a wildlife biologist at Colorado State University, has concluded that baby oxen have been shrinking in size. Using a powerful, long-lens camera, Berger photographs the oxen from afar. Then, back at the University, he uses advanced technology to measure the heads of the calves. According to his studies, baby calves are substantially smaller than they were ten years ago, sometimes up to 15 percent.

The musk ox is not the only animal suffering from these drastic changes in environment. Every arctic animal lives under threat. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the world average. Now is the time to act.

For more information and ways to help, visit: http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/arctic/

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