As Ice Caps Melt, Polar Bears in Greenland Adapt

Natural icy habitats of polar bears have been destroyed by global warming over the last few decades. However, there has been a group of polar bears that has learned to adapt to these conditions. Surprising scientists, polar bears in Greenland have been resilient to the ever changing climate of their glacial environment.

The ice in the Arctic is melting bit by bit. As a result, polar bears' food resources are being more scarce and harder to find. Seals are one of their main food sources in the Arctic sea. When they live on land, their other food sources are small birds and plants, which aren’t enough to feed them. Polar bears are now finding alternative ways to hunt seals on glacial ice.

A scientist at the University of Washington, Dr. Kristin Laidre, tracked some glacier-dwelling bears with radio collars. Dr. Laidre and her colleagues studied their DNA. They tranquilized them with darts fired from a helicopter and removed tufts of fur for testing. They collected new data every seven years and also used 30 years of prior information.

Just as the Arctic sea ice increases in winter and spring, it gets smaller during the summer. It is shrinking a small amount each year, specifically it is disappearing at a rate of 13 percent per decade. Satellite images show that Greenland’s glaciers are melting, over the course of decades instead of centuries. Additionally, polar bears that live in Alaska, Canada, and Russia might not necessarily survive the same way as Greenland bears in freshwater ice. This has made some researchers worry that someday polar bears might start to go extinct.

It is important to be able to understand the issues revolving around polar bears and their population. It now stands at about 26,000 polar bears left and around 19 distinct population groups among Arctic regions of Canada, Russia, Alaska, Greenland, and Norway. One of the primary reasons why the climate is changing is due to large increases of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. These gases absorb solar radiation and trap heat into the planet. If we cut back production of greenhouse gasses, then we might be able to slow global warming and prevent extinction of polar bears.

[Sources: Science.com; The Wall Street Journal; nytimes.com]

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