Salmon and Caribou in Trouble

Two reports today on species in trouble.  The first comes from National Geographic, about a phenomenon called “Rain on Snow“. What happens is that, when it warms just a little bit too much, water collects at ground level under the snow, and when it gets cold again, the water freezes. Animals like caribou and musk-ox starve, because they can’t break through the ice to feed.  

This happened in 2003, up in the Northwest Territories of Canada, killing off some 20,000 musk-oxen. “Stories told by local people suggest that these events occur in Russia, Sweden, Finland, and Canada, and affect approximately four million Arctic inhabitants.”

In a second release, the San Diego Union Tribune reports that “Scientists examining the sudden and widespread collapse of West Coast salmon returns are pointing to the unusual changes in weather patterns that caused the bottom to fall out of the ocean food web in 2005.”

Because this year has been colder than the last few, scientists are hoping that upwelling will improve, and the species might rebound.

NASA’s Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Service have a nice article describing this process: “When the Pacific Ocean is in what oceanographers consider a “normal” state, wind/water interactions along the Equator result in the world’s largest upwelling zone, which brings nutrient-rich subsurface waters to the surface. These nutrients sustain the growth of phytoplankton. However, when the Pacific Ocean is experiencing the phenomenon called El Niño, warmer water at the surface of the ocean suppresses upwelling, and phytoplankton growth is severely diminished.”

NASA scientists won’t say that there’s a link from increased El Niño events to a warming climate, but they do note that there have been an increase of El Niño events over the last two decades.

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