More than 200 reindeer carcasses have been found in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard this year, and researchers are blaming climate change.

Scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), Norway's government institution for research and environmental management, spent 10 weeks investigating the population. They said a rainy season early last winter led to more reindeer deaths than usual, because when winter rain turns to ice, reindeer are unable to dig for food.

A relatively large number of calves were born last year, which only made matters worse. "The animals starve and can die and it is the youngest and weakest animals that succumb first," the institute said.

NPI has been mapping wild reindeer on Svalbard, a collection of Norwegian islands just 800 miles from the North Pole, since 1978. "Never before have they seen so many carcasses at once," Norway public broadcaster NRK said.

Scientists fear the reindeer deaths are just another sign of rapid climate change in the region. "It is scary to find so many dead animals," researcher Åshild Ønvik Pedersen told NRK. "This is a terrifying example of how climate change affects nature."

It is not uncommon for reindeer to die of starvation in the winter. But the number of deaths and food shortages are alarming. "Some of the mortality is natural because there were so many calves last year," Pedersen said. "But the large number we see now is due to heavy rainfall, which is due to global warming."

Reindeer can dig through snow for food, but not ice. So, during a typical snowy season, most of the reindeer population does not suffer. But a milder climate has led to more rain than snow, followed by more ice and less access to food, Pedersen said.

According to NPI, Svalbard has been disproportionally affected by climate change, which has had major consequences for animals native to the region. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Arctic Report Card for 2018, the region has been warming at twice the rate as the rest of the planet in recent years.