As climate change melts the Arctic, polar bears have nowhere to turn

World Today

Climate change continues to make its presence felt on our planet. One area that’s warmed-up more than other parts of the globe is the Arctic. That warming has caused ice in the region to thin, leaving polar bears nowhere to turn.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

Merav Ben-David, a professor at the University of Wyoming, has been studying polar bears for years now. From Russia to Alaska, their arctic habitats are melting under their feet.

They hunt on sea ice. Ocean currents and the wind push that ice to the west, away from landmasses like Alaska.

“They always had to walk against the drift to remain in Alaska,” she said.

That thinning ice doesn’t weigh as much. According to Ben-David, that means that the polar bears have to walk more, or faster, because the ice drifts faster.

It’s like walking down an up escalator. It’s not a normal action. You expend a lot more effort than if you were going in the opposite direction and you don’t get very far.

It’s a real challenge for female polar bears with cubs.

“These females, instead of walking faster, they cannot do that because they’re limited by the movement rate of the cub. They actually move more hours,” explained Ben-David.

Satellite radio collars were placed on polar bears to track them. Over time, it was discovered that the bears lost size and body mass. And the population—especially younger cubs and yearlings—has declined.

Ben-David and the U.S. Geological Survey’s latest findings were published in the journal Global Change Biology in June.

Field biologist Mike Lockhart took part in the research and saw the impact of the thinning ice first-hand.

“They were skinnier. A lot of them were skinnier,” Lockhart said. “It’s absolutely heart-breaking.”

Ben-David blames excess fossil fuel use for the loss of sea ice. The International Union for Conservation of Nature calls the disappearing ice pack the single largest threat to polar bear survival.

It’s been several years since Ben-David and Lockhart saw these animals up close. There’s no reason, Lockhart thinks, to believe their situation has improved.

“It’s definitely accelerating,” he said. “I’m afraid to see what might be up there.”