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Northern Arizona University student researching caribou migration

Last Caribou
Posted at 3:24 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 18:58:24-05

Deep in the heart of the Arctic, thousands upon thousands of large mammals roam the tundra. In fact, there are more of these in the state of Alaska then there are people there.

Upon first glance, you’d think they are reindeer, but in fact, they are caribou. Unlike reindeer, they’re larger, slimmer, and native to North America. They’re also a big player in Alaska’s environment.

Kathleen Orndahl, a Ph.D. student at Northern Arizona University, has been studying caribou along with their migration patterns for years. With the help of modern-day technology, like GPS, satellites, and drones, Orndahl can learn valuable information with little impacts on the caribou’s environment. That research is already showing trends.

"A lot of the changes we see in the Arctic as a result of climate change have negative impacts on caribou from decreasing food supply, increasing mosquitoes that bug them, increasing mosquitoes that eat them. Without caribou, a lot of the function of the Arctic ecosystem would sort of collapse and not be as healthy as it could otherwise be," Orndahl said.

One of the goals with this research is to see how carbon moves through ecosystems, including animals, which hasn’t been researched thoroughly yet.

"Animating the carbon cycle is this idea that really we ought to start including impacts of animals and caribou are a good place to start," she said.

She’s hoping that this will help fill in the gaps in our understanding of climate change in the Arctic and that caribou could be the key to bridging that gap.