Santa’s sleigh is famously hauled by eight reindeer, nine if you count the glowing Rudolf helps the weather is bad. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen are the famous eight. The final two are an easy-to-understand translation of Dutch, but the rest of the eight sounds like a good time. However, most transcontinental journeys have unfavorable repercussions.
Air travel contributes significantly to climate change; one round-trip ticket from London to San Francisco is estimated to generate enough carbon to melt five square meters of Arctic sea ice. This adds further burden to Father Christmas’s Christmas preparations: are reindeer an ecologically friendly mode of transportation. We need to know how reindeer spend the rest of the year to answer this issue.
The problem for Santa is that reindeer are ruminants, which means they consume vegetation that ferments in their intestines, producing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Reindeer, on the other hand, eat tiny plants when grounded, and this grazing has a considerable impact on the Arctic landscape’s carbon budget.
Recent research on the Norwegian-Finnish border compared soil fungus in regions where reindeer feed all year with locations where reindeer only graze in the winter (presumably except for Christmas Eve). Birchwoods grew throughout the tundra thanks to winter-only grazing.
However, areas, where reindeer grazed all year, had higher heathland vegetation. More carbon is released due to the rich soils formed by birch and the types of fungus that reside in the soils beneath the trees. However, the heathland soil’s more fungus that is specialized operates more slowly, enabling carbon reserves to develop.
The reindeer is credited with restraining the expansion of birch woods, which releases carbon from the soil. Reindeer grazing determines whether the local tundra grows more wooded, losing carbon, or remains covered with dwarf shrubs, which had better keep carbon in the soil. Reindeer would be carbon-negative because of this, as their methane burps would be more than offset.
In fact, birch forests are ideal habitat for the fly agaric toadstool Amanita muscaria, the iconic cartoon fungus that resembles a bright red cushion flecked with popcorn. Reindeer that consume the fungus is said to go about in circles, making weird noises, and twitching, which is a regular Yuletide occurrence in my experience, but in this instance owing to the psychotropic chemicals in the mushrooms. Reindeer herders have even been accused of drinking the urine of reindeer that have consumed the fungus. The psychedelic properties of the fungus were retained while the toxicity was reduced in this mulled mixture.