The rising of the sun and the running of the deer
This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA communications officer
In November, Norwegians Arnoldus Schytte Blix, Lars Walløe and Lars Folkow brought us the news that running reindeer cool themselves through open-mouthed panting, as Sara Reardon explains at ScienceNOW. Their heavy winter coats are so effective at insulating the animals from arctic temperatures that they have trouble dumping excess heat through their skin. Deep cooling breaths through their noses aren’t enough when reindeer are working hard. At speed on Blix et al’s treadmill, reindeer tongues loll from open mouths to cool their blood through evaporation, just like hard racing reindeer neck-and-neck in a skijor competition in northern Finland, documented in exciting, goofy, copyrighted detail by photographer Henri Bonell.
Do Reindeer bite their giant tongues?
“Fortunately they only have bottom incisors, although their molars are sharp so I imagine they avoid closing their mouths until their tongues are safely inside,” said veterinarian Christina Ramirez. Deer have a bony plate in place of top teeth in the very front of their mouths. A big gap separates the few pointy teeth at the front of the bottom jaw from molars in the back.
In reindeer (known as caribou in the New World) territory, climactic change is palpably present. Melting permafrost is a vivid symptom. Tilting buildings and falling trees, undermined by the thaw, are big reminders of the invisible frozen soil that underlies much of the arctic and molds geology, ecology and human construction. In a long article in the New York Times, Justin Gillis describes an invisible consequence of melting permafrost: methane, a potent greenhouse gas, emanating from rotting plants released from frozen ground. Microorganisms are busy decomposing leaves and branches that have been on ice for thirty thousand years, producing methane as a byproduct of their gluttony. The US Department of Energy is investing $100 million dollars in an attempt to estimate the amount of carbon frozen in the soil and predict the future of the arctic. A slideshow of working scientists, and beautiful images of methane bubbling up from new Alaskan lake beds and collecting under surface ice, accompanies the article.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says it’s been a record year for disastrous weather in the US, with a succession of tornados, hurricanes, blizzards, wildfires, heatwaves and flooding hitting the country. Re-experience it on their website.
The folks at Talking Science, a non-profit partner of NPR’s Science Friday, list twelve ways to participate in research, from sifting data from the Milky Way to counting your (prairie) chickens.
Photo: Ski-jor! A reindeer race in Tromsø, Norway on Saami National Day. Credit, anjči, Wikimedia Commons, February 6th 2011.