Climate change in the Arctic region can be considered to be the most serious environmental issue that is threatening the Arctic environment. Apparently, the annual average temperature in this region has been gradually increasing by approximately double the total global average temperature (Symon, Lelani and O W, 123). It has become evident that human activities are the single most cause of climate change, even the government of US has at last admitted to this fact. During the past few years, the Arctic environment has warmed at alarming rate, and scientist predict that it is still going to continue by as much as 18 Degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100 (Blunden et al, 5107). In light of these climatic changes, devastating effects have befallen the arctic ecosystem such as the sea ice, forest, tundra and the permafrost. It has also increased a lot of stress on the animal’s population in this region. This paper will seek to expound on how climate change in the Arctic, specifically snow depth, has affected the populations of the caribou population.
Most Arctic wildlife populations have been compelled by situations to adapt to the changes in their habitats as a result of the adverse climatic change. Melting ice greatly affects the populations of various marine mammals especially the polar bear and the caribou, and also the general livelihood of the human population around that area. This is because the hardened sea ice forms a natural breakwater against storm wave action (Hirsch, 177). Therefore, melting ice allows for a greater storm surge that develops and causes erosion inundation and coastal sedimentation. According to the article Impacts of a warming Arctic-Arctic climate impact assessment, authored by Susan Joy Hassol, the retreat and the weakening of the ice is making the caribou fall through the once solid sea ice. Additionally, various species of the Caribou such as the high Canadian Arctic Peary Caribou, has suffered a rapid decrease in the recent past due to the unusually warm winters. They were reported being unable to reach the tundra vegetation that is the sole source of food in this environment since it was all covered with vast layers of crusty snow, and also due to the ice that was forming due to climate change (Dyer 14).
I hypothesize that caribou population decline is caused by a change in local snow depth change, which is the impact of global warming due to climate change.
GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
The principle objective of this research proposal is to prepare for my research on the decreasing populations of Caribou in the Aric regions of Canada. It will be designed to mainly, focus on the aspect of snow depth and how it has been contributing to the decline of this animal. The goals of this paper are to review previously literature material that have been researched under this ecosystem niche. It will help me, the researcher, to have a rough estimate of the total caribou populations and compare it with the previous populations so as to better understand the rate at which this mammal is decreasing at. In addition, I seek to find the most appropriate sample size of the caribou population that my main research can use to determine the amount of stress that has been impacted on them. Apart from focusing on the study of their decline in populations, it is also imperative to understand why caribous are so dear to the people of northern Canada. The people in the northern Labrador especially the Inuit and Innu residence enjoy caribous as a major part of their diet. Additionally, they also use them for many other cultural activities while at the same time being the base of their traditional economy.
The Peary Caribou is the most common types of Caribou found in the northern cold parts of Canada. They are the high Arctic subspecies of caribou that are limited to a few arctic islands. J D Steventon reported that, since 1961, the populations at the western Arctic island has dramatically plummeted from a total of 24350 animals to only 1,020 in the year 2005. This is great die-off might be the beginning of extinction of the Peary caribou in the vast Western Arctic as a result of the increase in temperatures and precipitation. Steventon further explains that the most appropriate explanation about this decline is the starvation caused to this animals as deep snow pack prevents the caribous from reaching their crucial winter food supply. In most cases, Caribous are characteristically widespread I distribution with only a small portion of them being confined at any single time in one area. They move in herds in search of adequate forage. In fact, for the caribous to survive they must have access to enough forage at all seasons, whether its summer or winter. The general decline of the Peary caribou is a representative of the fall in population of other subspecies of the caribous and all the other Arctic wildlife to the adverse effects of climate change.
It is worth noting that, there exists warm temperatures when the snow falls. Consequently, the snow becomes dense and further made compact by the during wind that blow in the Arctic, therefore, the Caribous end up using a lot of energies trying to dig and get something that they can eat (Miner. Vancouver and Toronto, 621). Ultimately, they exhaust their energy and end u dying. Many scientist has projected that this climatic change factor will, without a doubt, lead to the extinction of the Peary caribous. The release of greenhouses affects into the ozone layer thus making earthwarmer and increasing precipitation specifically over the normally dry Arctic environment. Several hundred miles southwest of where the Peary caribou habitats is the habitat of the Porcupine caribou herd. The people of the northwestern part of Canada and also the eastern Alaska are very dependent on this particular herd for their livelihood (Blunden et al 17). Therefore, in this research, I assume that all the effects of climate change that has affected the Peary Caribou is also happening to the Porcupine caribous and all the other subspecies of this animal.
Different sources such as the article An environmental history of Canada predict that this decline of the Caribou especially the Porcupine caribou will be further propelled due to ongoing prospects of the expansion and development of oil and gas exploration that are spreading further north and east of the vast Prudhoe Bay oil complex situated on the northern slope of Alaska. This is a major threat to the caribou’s population sine it is obvious that burning coal, fossil fuels, gas and oil leads to the release of carbon gases that are the single most cause of global warming and climate change. Nonetheless, the government of Canada and biologists from all around the circumpolar world have been dedicated to preventing further decline. It is reported that a group of scientist around the arctic region, meets after every four years to find the right ways to tackle this problem. They deliberate about reindeer and muskox also but the saddening state of the caribous takes the largest part of their agenda. In the last convection in the year 2010, said that 9 of Canadian’s 11 northern herd was considered to be on the decline. The biologist report in the convection reported that the Bathurst population on the central area of barrens had sharply reduced from a high of 120,000 in 2006 up to 32,000 in the year 2009. This was an insane decrease since it means that the northern arctic region lost more than 90,000 caribous in just three years’ time. This is a 75% implosion.
Since my major focus in this research is to consider how snow depth affect the caribou’s behavior, I reviewed previous research studies that depict how snow depth endangers the posterity of the caribou’s lifeline. A research that was carried out by Symon and Lelani, they followed the caribous migration from Victoria island to the mainland to determine how they have been affected by the ice coronation gulf decrease in thickness thus making the migration of this animals very dangerous. They have also explained how warming has led to an increase in precipitation thus causing a thicker blanket of snow on the environment. This thickening of the snow’s depth makes the caribou’s to have a lot of difficulties while digging through to get at the mosses and the lichens that normally sustains them during the winter period. When precipitation occurs in form of freezing rain, the depth of the layer of snow is further enlarged thereby locking down the food sources under the large impenetrable layer. During such times, the caribou would end up expending excess energy seeking food, it is for this reason that many of them end up dying of exhaustion and starvation.
The research will involve field measurements of precipitation (snow depth) and caribou population dynamics in the study area.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
The size and importance of the caribous herd have led to many research studies and efforts both in Labrador and Quebec with the aim of better understanding the aspect of population fluctuations due to changes in environmental conditions. In this research study, I will use a specific study area where I will study my sample population in regard to the effects of change in the depth of the snow in the arctic.
- Study area
In this research study, I intend to include the areas that are known to form the western margins of the Arctic archipelago of Canada (82°N and 95° W). These areas are Loughgeed, Elief Ringnes, King Christian, Cornwall, Meighen and also Axel Heiberg islands. At this area, three different bases would be operated, which are intended to aid in the survey of the population movement from west to east. The closest communities that surround this study area are the Resolute bay (Cornwallis Island) and the Grise Fiord (Ellesmere Island) that were being located beyond the study area.
- The specific Research Methods
The Peary Caribou is known to disperse over a vast geographical areas. Therefore, a complete census of this animal is practically impossible hence the need for the use of sampling approach. I intend to follow a standard aerial survey method and distance sampling methodology as used by Robert Reid in his 2004 research on the distribution and abundance of the Peary caribous. In my main research, a systematic line transect design will be used especially with a random starting point (Heuer, 332). Straight lines that will be positioned at distances of 5 km apart and will be stretched east to west across the whole study area. I presume that, transects that I would have created will be able to cover the complete land base apart from the extensive glaciers and ice fields. In order to maximize detection, of my intended target caribous, the aircraft should be flying approximately 10 m above the ground level at moderate speeds of between 80-120 Km/Hr., which depends on the snow cover patchiness, weather and the topography in general.
Upon the detection of the targeted caribous, whether in social groups or individuals, I will record the species, sex, weight and group size of the particular individuals. In the course of this endeavor, I will take great precautions regarding animal care and safety by keeping the observation time to the minimum possible time so as not to create disturbance to the animals. Fast record of the animals even those that would be calving would be recorded. This record will be complimented by the GPS collected individual information after every 30 seconds time so as to produce reliable track logs.
- Measuring the Hormone levels in Caribou
Since previous research shows that although human activity in these selected regions was high, the level of nutrition for the caribou was at its poorest levels, and also the psychological stress that is being imparted on them is immense. According to a research carried out by a group of research from the University of Alberta, they realized that the amount of psychological stress on the caribou was seen to decrease when the oil crews left this area. They reported that the animals became more relaxed and their general nutrition also improved. To be able to effectively measure the hormonal level of these animals, I will use dogs to find my targeted subspecies of caribou under my study area especially in the oil sands of Cornwall (Naughton 197). Will then determine the material to use the information gathered form the aerial surveillance to analyze the animals range and habits. If the weather during this winter period continues being cold, it will create the perfect method to be able to instantly freeze the scat for further laboratory analysis that will be able to determine the nutrition value of the foods that the caribou consumes. I find dogs to being one of the best animals that can be used in my efforts in finding a scat in the Arctic environment. According to Patrick Valkenburg, a professor of biology at the University of Alberta, the dog can be able to detect a scat in the snow as far as a quarter kilometer away. In this study, I intend to collect around 5 samples.
For this research to be successful, I intend to catch at least five caribous from five different clusters. This number will be my sample size, representative of the other caribous in the northern hemisphere of the Arctic region. I find this sample size appropriate or my study because after I use the results from the population of caribou that was carried out in the five areas that composes my study area, in most places the total population of the caribou was between 20 to 40 animals. Therefore, this sample size is a good representative that can be used to clearly show the hormonal and psychological situation that these animals can be undergoing as a result of the adverse changes created by global warming.
- Determining the depth of the snow
The precipitation that occurs and causes an increase in the thickness of the snow is among the principle causes of lack of forages for the caribou. Therefore, it is almost impossible not to put under consideration its effect to the animal such as the stress that the caribou undergo so as to access the foods that have been covered with a layer of snow and the hormone imbalance that results for this type of stress and lack of quality nutrition. The average annual temperature that has been recorded in the Canadian Arctic has been fluctuating due to the reported human activities. I will use the relevant measurement instruments to determine the depth of the snow where possible and also use a rough estimate that can be used to further tell about the snow size. In this area, a lot of precipitations occurs in the form of freeze rain that falls on the animal’s habitat. Combined with the wind that blows in this region, the precipitate normally join and become compact thus increasing the depth of the snow (MacDowell 71). Nonetheless, climate change has also led to some areas in the Arctic from being very dangerous for these animals because it is causing global warming that is making the snow depth in some instances to become thinner and therefore it becomes suicidal for the caribou when migrating in search of food. I believe that I will be able to effectively correlate the different snow depths with the level of stress that I will analyze on my sample size so as to be able to get an overview of the whole situation affecting the Caribou in this region.
- Other Factors That Affect Hormone Level Of The Caribou
Other than predation, nutrition and human activities, there exists other factors that would greatly influence the hormone level of the caribous. These threats include issues such as diseases and parasites. When the ecosystem that the caribous have been used to becomes altered, these animals become vulnerable to various diseases and parasitic infections that also contribute to their rapid decrease in numbers. I find the issue of diseases to being one of the major factors that may affect my experiment especially with regard to the part of measuring the nutritional level and the body weight of the animal. If the caribou is sick, the data that I will derive from measuring its hormone activity may not be accurate. Credible or reliable data is principally got from a healthy caribou. Therefore, for this research, I will assume that the animals that I will catch for this experiment will be healthy ones.
Another factor that may affect the experiment is through a phenomena referred to as tropical mismatch. This is a situation occurs due to increase in temperature during the transition from the winter period. Since plant growth is made possible by increased temperatures or warmth, the plants will start to blossom earlier than expected and therefore cause migration as based on the aspect of lengthening days. The issue of caribou migration can cause threats to the smooth flow of the experiment.
It is evident that if the declining trend in the population of the caribou continues, they will become extinct in less than 30 years to come. My research will be aimed at providing more information that can be adopted by the government or any environmental and conservation group that is interested in protecting the caribou’s for the future generations. My research will provide adequate information with regard to how climate change denies these species good quality and amount of food, thus preventing them from building up enough fats in their bodies that would be used during the harsh winter periods for their survival. In general, I intend my main research to be extensive and very detailed so that it can be effectively used for varied objects with regard to understanding the effects of climate change and snow depth to the caribous population.
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