Snow measurements in Varanger

Published on: 20. January 2023

Why is it interesting for a researcher to dig in the snow in January? It's just snow there, isn't it? Yes, it is snow, but we want to know what type of snow, and whether there are hard crusts and ice on the ground. The snow conditions now in winter can determine whether we get a small rodent peak year next summer. And if it will be a small rodent year with a lot of Lemming, we know for sure that there will be many arctic fox litters in Varanger. We also know that many predators, which would otherwise subsist largely on eggs and chicks from, among other things, ptarmigan, will find plenty of food through small rodents, and thus there are also good chances for a good ptarmigan year.

Snow measurements in Varanger

Torvhaugdalen by winter. Photo: Jan Erik Knutsen 

Snow measurements are therefore an important part of COAT’s monitoring. Every year, a number of snow measurements are made in different habitats (living areas) for small rodents. We are particularly interested in the occurrence of ice layers that can prevent small and large herbivores from accessing food down on the ground. The main work on this will be done in March, but already in January we are starting the first registrations to get an indication of how 2023 may develop. The snow measurements in January are done near the weather station in Torvhaugdalen and at Reinhaugen in Nesseby municipality.

Snowprofile from Torvhaugdalen that show relative little snow and few hard layers in the snow. Photo: Jan Erik Knutsen

This year's first round of digging snow profiles shows that in general there is not that much snow yet, but some has probably blown away and traditionally more snow comes later in the winter. For the most part, there were good snow conditions with only thin and few layers of hard snow. There were only a few places with ice on the ground. Otherwise, small rodent activity was observed in several places in the form of tracks, tunnels, dens and dirt. So far, it bodes well for a long-awaited small rodent peak year on the Varanger Peninsula in the summer - perhaps also with the Lemming!

Signs at the ground from smallrodents in form of a hole / tunnel. Photo: Jan Erik Knutsen

If you want to know more about the role of small rodents as a key species in the tundra ecosystem, you can read more about this at the small rodent module.