A Third More Polar Bears Starving

by kespeland on January 2, 2009

A report in New Scientist describes new research from the University of Alberta, Canada, showing more polar bears are starving. Scientists tranquilized bears and took blood samples in 1985 and 1986, then again in 2005 an 2006. Based on the ratio of two chemicals in the blood, they could tell which bears were fasting (at a time of year when most bears are feasting to store up fat for summer). That number increased three-fold over those 20 years.

Their explanation? Loss of sea ice, on which the bears hunt for seals, and possibly a loss of seals, which build dens for their young on the ice.

The bears’ problems are far from over. Arctic sea ice has been melting for decades, but scientists say that melting has been accelerating over the past few years. Some even say we’ve reached the point of no return, meaning that we’re losing so much ice every year that it won’t be able to recover. There was slightly more ice (4.6 million sq. km) left at the end of fall 2008. But that’s just slightly more than all of 2007 (4.3 million sq. km), the second lowest coverage on record.

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{ 2 comments }

Ralph January 7, 2009 at 6:23 pm

I think these researchers have a knack for falsifying studies to perpetuate ongoing research grants, while totally disregarding sea ice reality:
Sea Ice Ends Year at Same Level as 1979
http://www.dailytech.com/Article.aspx?newsid=13834
See also The Cryosphere Today
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/

Kristin Espeland January 8, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Ralph, thanks for reading the blog post.

The author of the Daily Tech article was talking about global sea ice, not arctic sea ice. That’s a very different measure. The Cryosphere has even posted a comment about that article on its Web site, clarifying the issue. Apparently they received a lot of calls after the article came out.

The fact is that the extent of arctic sea ice in both summer and winter is well below observed, long-term averages. Some ice used to stick around all year (called “perennial ice”), even in summer. But National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists believe, because of the increased surface temperature documented there, we’re headed for an ice-free arctic in summers. Winter (or “seasonal”) ice recovered last year in some parts of the arctic, but not everywhere.

A one-year recovery of the extent of arctic ice, much like an occasional cold summer, should not distract us from the bigger picture. The earth is warming, we’re partly responsible, and those are the well-established facts.

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