Climate Change Shrunk Reindeer, So Santa Has to Rethink His Plan

Getty Images / Jeff J Mitchell

Between anthrax and climate change, it’s dark times for reindeer. But the adult reindeer that live on the Arctic island of Svalbard actually are doing fine — despite a surprising development. While their weight has dropped, their populations have increased — good news for the reindeer, bad news for the world’s Santa-fearing children if “his reindeer” are experiencing the same sort of weight loss.

But back to Svalbard: A recent analysis of its population of reindeer reveals that between 1994 and 2010 the average weight of a reindeer dropped by 15 pounds. In a paper published Monday in the journal British Ecological Society, a team of researchers explain that this was a period of time marked by both summer and winter warming. In turn, the reindeer on Svalbard became smaller and lighter because of the amount of winter food available to them — their weight dropped 12 percent, from 121 pounds to 106 pounds over the 16-year period.

Now to Santa: Svalbard is 817 miles from the North Pole. It’s fair to assume that much like the Svalbard reindeer, Santa’s own reindeer (just go with us here) would also be affected by climate change. Weight loss means something considerably different to Santa’s reindeer, who are expected to carry thousands of pounds of gifts around the world over the course of 31 hours. Would they be able to do their job if they dropped some pounds?

Would Santa need more reindeer to get the job done?


If we consider this to be a proportional difference — 12 percent of the reindeer’s weight is lost due to climate change — and we have nine original reindeer (at least, with the addition of Rudolph), that means that Santa has to add 1.3 reindeer to his crew to ensure the same sleigh-pulling capability. Adding one reindeer might sink the sleigh, so Santa’s best bet is to add two climate change adjusted reindeer to pull his sleigh.

Of course, Santa’s reindeer are doing some pulling some pretty near-impossible weights: The legendary fact-checkers at Snopes figure that if every child on Earth who isn’t Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist gets a two-pound present, then Santa’s sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons. That means that each of Santa’s nine reindeer are responsible for a load of 35,700 tons. (These are magical reindeer indeed — an average reindeer can only pull about 300 pounds.)

While Donald Trump might not be completely convinced about climate change just yet, Santa sure as hell feels its effects.

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