Monday, September 26, 2016

Terns Flee Warming Temps in Epic Migration to Alaska

In July researchers in Cape Krusenstern national monument on the north-west coast of Alaska were startled to discover a nest containing Caspian terns on the gravely beach of a lagoon.  The birds were an incredible 1,000 miles further north than the species had been previously recorded.

“There was plenty of shock, it is a very unusual situation,” said Dr Martin Robards, Arctic program director at the Wildlife Conservation Society, which found the nest.  “We checked with Caspian tern experts and they were all very surprised they were this far north.  We get Arctic terns here but these terns are much bigger, they really stand out.”

Caspian terns (Credit: Anna Hesser/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
The terns, usually found in Washington state, successfully bred and chicks have now flown the nest.  While it remains to be seen whether Caspian terns will become ensconced long-term within the Arctic circle, the epic relocation is emblematic of how warming temperatures are causing a huge upheaval in the basic rhythms of Alaska’s environment.

This week scientists will gather at the White House’s first ever Arctic science meeting to deliver the confronting news.

“I’ve been up here 25 years and the amount of change that has occurred in Alaska is shocking,” said Robards.  “We’ve been focusing on things such as the temperature and sea ice here but now we are thinking ‘oh my God what is going on with the wildlife?’”

Alaska is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the U.S., with the winter temperature 6°F (3.3°C) warmer than it was 60 years ago.  Snow and ice has retreated, spring is coming earlier.  The landscape is changing and so are its residents.

“To be 1,000 miles further north attests to how much the globe has warmed,” said Terry Root, a biologist and senior fellow at Stanford University.  “Birds follow their physiology, nothing else.  If they think they should move, they move.  Alaska has warmed so much that it is causing havoc to a lot of nature.”

Read more at Terns Flee Warming Temps in Epic Migration to Alaska

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