Sep 23, 2016

Terns flee warming temperatures in epic migration north to Alaska

Alaska
USA
by
Oliver Milman
,
The Guardian
While most species aren’t able to move as far as terns, scientists are noticing shifts across Alaska. Photo: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images
While most species aren’t able to move as far as terns, scientists are noticing shifts across Alaska. Photo: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty Images

Eyebrows would be raised if American crocodiles, found on the southern tip of Florida, decided to relocate to New York’s Fifth Avenue or Moroccan camels suddenly joined the tourist throng outside Buckingham Palace in London. Yet this is the scale of species shift that appears to be under way in 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 gravelly 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...

“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 US, with the winter temperature 6F (3.3C) 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