Polar Bears Under Threat
Erica Mannis highlights the importance of immediate climate action in reference to the danger posed upon polar bears
Scientists have estimated that polar bears will be extinct by 2100 unless there is immediate action on climate change.
Global carbon emissions are causing temperatures to rise in the Arctic. This causes the ice to melt and break apart, destroying the polar bears’ habitats. Polar bears rely on this sea-ice to hunt as there is not enough sustenance on land alone, so they find breathing holes in the ice and hunt on seals and other marine wildlife.
They usually fast over the summer months, after building fat reserves from their winter hunting, but as the summer season extends, more and more bears are struggling to survive off of their reserves.
Scientists modelled polar bear endurance limits to predict how the effects of warming will directly impact these fantastic creatures. They estimated how fat or thin polar bears are, modelled their energy use, then derived the number of days a bear can fast before cub and adult survival rates fall. When these thresholds were combined with the projected numbers of sea-ice-free days, the scientists could predict how populations throughout the arctic would be affected. Survival rates fall when their critical endurance limits are met.
Scientists modelled polar bear endurance limits to predict how the effects of warming will directly impact these fantastic creatures.
Cubs would be lost first, as mothers would not have enough fat to be able to provide milk for their young during the ice-free season. Adults too would struggle to survive without a food source.
The threshold was estimated under two greenhouse gas emission scenarios. In a business-as-usual scenario polar bears will likely only remain on the Queen Elizabeth Islands – the northernmost cluster of islands in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago – by 2100. If emissions were mitigated, it is still highly likely most populations would experience reproductive failure by 2080.
If emissions were cut tomorrow the polar bears would still suffer due to the concentration of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere. We must work as a global society to combat climate change and preserve these animals that provide cultural, educational, and regulatory benefits. As a keystone species, their existence maintains balance throughout their ecosystem.
If emissions were cut tomorrow the polar bears would still suffer due to the concentration of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere.
The prospect of human intervention when numbers begin to decline is being ethically debated. Their habitat is not one that can be restored, and if large numbers of polar bears suffer from starvation, what can we do? Polar bear managers are working to determine if we should provide supplementary feed or relocate populations to new ice-covered areas.
The potential loss of this species demonstrates the undeniably massive effects climate change is having on our world. Public outcry for starving polar bears will be immense; however, to prevent that reality we must work now.