Finland’s reindeer help fight climate change

Image: YLEThick vegetation in Tundra regions hastens spring snow melt, thus spurring on climate change. The Meteorological Institute has investigated satellite images that show how vegetation cover affects the date winter snows melt.

The research found that snow nearly always melts on the Norwegian side of the border before it does in Finland. Aside from differences in vegetation cover, other factors such as temperatures, rainfall and sunshine did not vary significantly.

“On the Norwegian side vegetation was thicker, which stems from the fact that reindeer graze more on the Finnish side of the border,” said Juval Cohen, a researcher at the Institute.

Grazing reindeer reduce vegetation cover both by eating it and trampling it down. The differences between areas where reindeer graze and where they don’t can clearly be seen from satellite pictures in some areas.

Snow melt now earlier

According to Cohen, reductions in vegetation cover or protection of the barren tundra can slow snow melt in the summer, which in turn helps combat warming of the climate.

Snow melt has occurred earlier in the spring over the last ten years. As it reflects more of the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere than bare ground, snow keeps the temperatures cool. Snowless terrain, on the other hand, absorbs heat from the sun.

The study is based on satellite observations from 1995-2011.

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