HomeTechnologyStarving seabirds off the Alaskan coast show the danger of climate change

Starving seabirds off the Alaskan coast show the danger of climate change


WASHINGTON (AP) — Dead and dying seabirds collected off the coasts of the northern Bering and southern Chukchi Seas over the past six years reveal how the changing climate of the Arctic threatens ecosystems and the people who live there, according to a report released Tuesday. by American scientists.

Local communities have reported numerous emaciated carcasses of seabirds, including shearwaters, elks and guillemots, which normally eat plankton, krill or fish, but appear to have had difficulty finding enough food. The hundreds of distressed and dead birds are just a fraction of those that starved to death, scientists say.

“Since 2017, we have had multi-species seabird deaths in the Bering Strait region,” said Gay Sheffield, a biologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, based in Nome, Alaska, and a co-author of the report. “The only common feature is emaciation or starvation.”

Seabirds are struggling with climate-related ecosystem changes, which can affect the supply and timing of food available, as well as harmful algae blooms and a viral outbreak in the region, he said.

And their endangerment also endangers human communities: “Birds are essential to our region, they are nutritionally and economically essential,” Sheffield said.

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The data on seabirds is part of an annual report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called the “Arctic Report Card,” which documents changes in a region that is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. .

“With climate change, the food chain is changing rapidly,” said Don Lyons, a conservation scientist at the National Audubon Society’s Seabird Institute, who was not involved in the report. “Food isn’t predictable in the way it used to be, in terms of where the food is, at different times of the year.”

While seabirds naturally experience some lean years, the report documents a concerning pattern, Lyons said. “It seems that we have passed a tipping point: we have moved into a new regime in which events that we used to consider rare and unusual are now common and frequent.”

Last year, annual Arctic surface air temperatures were the sixth warmest since records began in 1900, according to the report. And satellite records revealed that for several weeks last summer, large regions near the North Pole were virtually free of sea ice.

“The sea ice extent was much less than the long-term average,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice expert at the University of Colorado Boulder and a co-author of the report.

“The most remarkable thing we saw was during the summer, we saw a lot of open water areas near the North Pole, which was once very rare,” he said. “Several kilometers with little or no ice, within a couple hundred kilometers of the North Pole.”

“The changes that are happening in the Arctic are very rapid and profound,” said Peter Marra, a conservation biologist at Georgetown University, who was not involved in the report.

Seabirds are metaphorical canaries in the coal mines when it comes to showing broader ecosystem changes, Marra said, adding: “We need to do a much better job of monitoring these sentinel populations.”

Follow Christina Larson on Twitter: @larsonchristina

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