New polar bear population found in region without sea ice – 06/17/2022

Polar bears face an existential threat due to the rapidly shrinking Arctic sea ice on which these animals depend for a surface to hunt seals.

But in a new study, scientists have identified an isolated subpopulation of polar bears in southeastern Greenland that instead use freshwater ice from the region’s glaciers as a shelf, suggesting that this particular habitat is less susceptible than others to climate changes.

These findings, described in the journal Science on Thursday, suggest the possibility that at least some populations of the species could survive beyond this century, when Arctic sea ice is expected to completely disappear during the summer months.

“One of the big questions is where polar bears can survive in the Arctic,” one of the study’s authors, Kristin Laidre, a polar scientist at the University of Washington and the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, told AFP.

“I think bears that live in a place like this can teach us a lot about where other places could be,” he added.

Laidre and his colleagues spent two years interviewing Inuit hunters who provided ecological information and knowledge.

The scientists then began their own fieldwork, from 2015 to 2021, in an inhospitable region that had long been unstudied due to unpredictable weather, heavy snowfall and mountains.

Fieldwork

It is believed to be a few hundred individuals and "the most genetically isolated polar bear population on the planet" - Getty Images - Getty Images

They are believed to be a few hundred individuals and “the most genetically isolated polar bear population on the planet”

Image: Getty Images

Each year, the team spent a month in the spring in the town of Kuummiit, which is a two-hour helicopter ride from where the bears live.

The team tagged the bears with satellite tracking devices and collected genetic samples by capturing them or shooting biopsy darts at their hindquarters.

They are believed to be a few hundred individuals and “the most genetically isolated polar bear population on the planet,” said co-author Beth Shapiro, a geneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

We know that this population has lived separately from other polar bear populations for at least several hundred years.”

Unlike other polar bears, these animals were found to be domestic and rarely strayed from their home to hunt.

Their isolation is explained by the geography of the place: they live in an area of ​​fjords in the extreme south of Greenland, well below the Arctic Circle, with nowhere to go.

A hope

Measurements show that adult females are slightly smaller than average and appear to have fewer calves, but it's hard to infer much about what that means in the absence of long-term data - Getty Images - Getty Images

Measurements show that adult females are slightly smaller than average and appear to have fewer offspring, but it is difficult to infer much about what this means in the absence of long-term data.

Image: Getty Images

While sea ice allows most of the Arctic’s roughly 26,000 polar bears to hunt, bears in southeastern Greenland have access to sea ice for just four months, between February and late May.

For the remaining eight months, they rely on chunks of freshwater ice that break off from the Greenland ice sheet in the form of glaciers that end up in the sea.

“These types of glaciers exist in other parts of the Arctic, but the combination of fjord shapes, high glacial ice production and the large reservoir of ice that is available in the Greenland Ice Sheet is what currently provides a constant supply of ice. of glaciers,” another co-author, Twila Moon, from the National Snow and Ice Data Center, explained in a statement.

Measurements show that adult females are slightly smaller than average and appear to have fewer calves, but it’s hard to infer much about what that means in the absence of long-term data.

While the study is hopeful, the bears will not be saved without urgent climate action.

However, this population may have a better chance of survival, and there are similar areas in Greenland, as well as on the island of Svalbard, that could become small-scale climate refuges.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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