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Climate Change, Snowy Owls & Arctic Ecosystems

Photo © Melissa Groo 2018

The value of long-term research is best observed when an old project starts to tell a new story. Such is the case with our Snowy Owl study based out of Barrow, Alaska. The study began to understand the relationship of Snowy Owls to lemmings and the implications to breeding. Twenty-six years later we have examined and documented answers to many additional research queries.

We now embark on a collaborative project that utilizes this existing data in a new way. The project will work to better understand, and document, the effects of climate change on the declining Snowy Owl and lemming populations of our study area. Collaborative in nature, we will partner with climate change researchers and statisticians to execute the analysis - the first of its kind for the Snowy Owl, the avian icon of the Arctic.

We know that climate change is real; during our time in the Arctic we have observed warming temperatures: ice is thinner, permafrost is deeper, there is less snow. The data to confirm and explain this process is exhaustive. However, while we have data illustrating a Snowy Owl population in decline, we don’t have the scientific why: why are the declines occurring? Our project seeks answers to this question, casting new light on how climate change affects arctic species, their ecosystems, and leading us to informed remedies.

The Charlotte Y. Martin Foundation has generously granted us a large portion of the total project budget, but we still need your support. In addition to the described analysis, our long-term research and monitoring must continue. The Barrow field season, which occurs for three months in late summer, is our most costly: travel, lodging, 4-wheeler maintenance, and field equipment, are annual costs attached to the project.

Long-term research is key to understanding why Snowy Owl populations, which have declined by 64% decline since 1970*, are suffering and what we can do to help. Together we can work to create credible tools for conservation around the Snowy Owl and other arctic species.

Photo: © Melissa Groo 2018 ​

*Partners in Flight

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