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Climate Change in the Arctic & around the globe

The Arctic “Beastie” – The Musk Ox

We had a special highlight in the camp today. Six musk oxen came in to graze just on the other side of the river. They are amazing creatures, huge bundles of fur on thin-looking white legs, curved horns. They only occur naturally in Eastern Greenland and a part of Canada, but some populations have been reintroduced in other Arctic areas.

The weather is holding. There was more cloud about today, but still relatively warm. I was glad of the wind that came up in the afternoon, which keeps the mosquitos at bay a little. They can be pretty unbearable out on the wet tundra, where I spent most of today.

First I joined Lars, who was doing some of the regular plant monitoring for the Zackenberg BioBasis programme. The aim of these programmes is to monitor the ecosystem over 50 years to provide a long-term series of background ecosystem data from a high Arctic area. The plant section involves noting the species on designated plots and keeping track of their development, i.e. when do they bloom, seed etc., which is likely to change with predicted Arctic warming. There are also some plots with miniature “greenhouses” around them, to simulate the effect of a warmer climate.

Later I joined Jannek, who had drawn the short straw, it seems, and had to cover today\’s section of the “lemming transect”. This means walking up and down a wide area searching for the remains of the winter nests of lemmings, to assess the state of the population. Lemmings are a type of Arctic rodent, “they look like chubby hamsters”, says Jannek. So far, no nests have been found this season, but there is still a lot of ground to cover. One factor influencing this could be the lack of snow this past winter. More about other possible reasons and implications another time.

One of the main reasons for the interest of the ornithologists here, though, seems to be that lemmings are the favourite food of long-tailed Skuas, a type of Arctic bird, which have not been nesting here in numbers this year, presumably because of a lack of nourishment.

This afternoon we got radio messages to stay clear of the runway, which is also the main path out of the station, as the little plane is flying in supplies of diesel from Daneborg, the Sirius Patrol station 25km away, where the ships bring in the supplies. We have power from a generator until 11 at night. Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, we\’ll be trying to find out how the musk ox population is faring and checking up on some Arctic foxes and their pups.


July 17, 2009 | 12:10 pm