The rapid melting of sea ice in the Arctic poses a serious threat to the survival of polar bears, who often use blocks of frozen seawater to hunt. This new population, however, uses chunks of ice that break off from the region’s freshwater glaciers.
Scientists have identified these bears in southeastern Greenland. The discovery, described in a study published this Thursday (16) in the journal Science, gives hope that at least some representatives of this species can survive during this century. The news came as France is facing an above-normal heat wave.
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While sea ice provides a hunting platform for most of the Arctic’s roughly 26,000 polar bears, the animals only have access to it in southeastern Greenland during four months of the year, between February and late May. During the other eight months, these animals use chunks of freshwater ice, which break off from the glaciers and end up directly in the sea.
“One of the big questions is where polar bears might live,” explains Kristin Laidre, a scientist at the University of Washington and the Greenland Institute for Natural Resources. “Considering that Arctic sea ice is expected to disappear completely in the summer, I think bears roaming a place like this can tell us a lot. [sobre onde] it can happen”, he adds.
At first, this new group has several hundred individuals. The bears were equipped with satellite tracking devices and had DNA samples taken, either by capturing some of them or using darts to take the biopsies. “We know that this population lived separately from other polar bears for at least several hundred years,” says Beth Shapiro, co-author of the study and a geneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Their isolation stems from the geography where they live: a complex landscape of rocky valleys flooded by the sea, in the extreme south of Greenland, well below the Arctic Circle. From there, they have nowhere to go.
Laidre warns, however, that We must be careful not to place too much hope in this study.. Polar bears will not be saved without urgent action to combat climate change. However, this specific population may have a better chance of survival than the others. It is also possible that other regions of Greenland, which have glaciers that end directly in the sea, could, in the future, become small climate refuges.