It seems like every winter we see the same thing – political cartoons with characters shivering in the cold, praying for global warming, a rise in the taunts from climate skeptics that global warming is a hoax. This year is no different, especially with Europe’s Christmas-time Arctic blast that gave England its coldest December in over 100 years.
The reality is, however, that global warming can in fact make our winters colder. That Arctic chill you complain about as you raise your scarf higher around your neck – it may indeed be a blast of cold air from the high Arctic.
“Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations.”
So what does the loss of sea ice and the plight of polar bears have to do with cold winters in the Lower 48 and Europe? A lot, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Arctic Report Card for 2010. The NOAA report shows that as sea ice takes longer to form in the fall due to warming, the Arctic atmosphere is exposed to the warming effects of open water. At the same time, more heat from the sun is absorbed by the Arctic Ocean instead of being reflected off the sea ice and back into space. This relative warming in the Arctic (it’s still cold up there!) creates a high pressure system that pushes cold Arctic air down to more southerly latitudes.
NOAA points out, “Thus we have a potential climate change paradox. Rather than a general warming everywhere, the loss of sea ice and a warmer Arctic can increase the impact of the Arctic on lower latitudes, bringing colder weather to southern locations.”
Noah Matson is making like a polar bear diving into Washington DC’s chilly Potomac River to raise awareness about climate change’s harmful impacts on Arctic animals like polar bears. Come see Noah and others this Saturday, January 22, at the National Harbor! Click here to learn more.
A reindeer sled, Arkhangelsk, Russia. Late nineteenth-century photochrom.
In only a few more days, a small group of the world’s most famous reindeer will be doing their annual “migration.” Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, Blitzen (and Rudolph, of course!) are the legendary reindeer that help Santa Claus deliver all those toys to kids by pulling his sleigh ’round the world on Christmas Eve. Because of the Clement Clark Moore poem and the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, we know a fair bit about this famous herd. But what about the rest of the world’s reindeer?
Large male reindeer in Alaska; USFWS photo
Reindeer Around the World
Reindeer live in the northernmost places in the world, such as Alaska, northern Canada and in the Nordic countries like Norway and Finland. In North America, reindeer that live in the wild are known as caribou, and only those that have been domesticated are called reindeer. Did you know that reindeer are the only members of the deer family that are widely domesticated? Reindeer are also the only the deer species in which both males and females grow antlers!
Here are some other fun facts:
Reindeer migrate extraordinary distances, often more than 3000 miles—which must be why Santa picked them to pull his sleigh.
While Santa’s team has only nine members, most reindeer travel in herds of hundreds or even thousands!
Reindeer fur is something like polar bear fur: The fur is hollow, which insulates them so that they don’t emit much heat. This keeps them both warm and dry, since they don’t melt the snow that they lie on!
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has a very shiny nose, but usually, reindeer grow fur on their noses to keep warm.
We don’t have any scientific facts that tell us how fast they fly, but they can run nearly 50 miles an hour and swim about six miles an hour.
Interesting stuff! But sadly, America’s reindeer, or caribou, are threatened by climate change. Learn more about caribou in the video below, “Feeling the Heat,” starring Jeff Corwin.
Of course, if you want to track the most famous reindeer of all on their journey this Christmas, NORAD will be tracking Santa again this year! You can follow them here.
To highlight the desperate plight of these mighty Arctic hunters and spur action to save polar bears, Defenders of Wildlife has secured time on the CBS jumbotron near Times Square through Christmas and New Year’s Eve. (Note: The ad, above, does not have an audio track.)
In a very public and prominent way, we’re calling on President Obama to secure vital habitat for these beloved bears and raising awareness about one of the most recognizable victims of climate change.
Pacific walruses usually make their residence floating on ice sheets out in the sea. But this year, the absence of tundra ice has left them crowding Alaskan beaches - up to 20,000 at one point this summer! This occurrence is so unusual, scientists are worried about the safety of the animals. Easily spooked, walruses could trample each other to death in a stampede. The Today Show reports on the phenomenon from Point Lay, Alaska, in “Without sea ice, walruses struggle to adapt.”