Polar Bears Will Survive if Global Warming Reduces Sea Ice

(p. A9) Scientists have identified a distinct subpopulation of polar bears in southeastern Greenland that, in an area with little sea ice, survive by hunting from ice that breaks off glaciers.

The discovery suggests a way that a small number of bears might survive as warming continues and more of the sea ice that they normally depend on disappears.

. . .

The subpopulation, believed to number several hundred animals, was identified during a multiyear study of what was thought to be a single population of bears along Greenland’s entire 1,800-mile-long east coast. Through analysis of satellite-tracked movements, tissue samples and other data, the bears in the southeast were found to be isolated, both physically and genetically, from the others.

“This was a wholly unexpected finding,” said Kristin Laidre, a biologist at the University of Washington who has studied marine mammal ecology in Greenland for two decades. Dr. Laidre is the lead author of a paper on the subpopulation published Thursday [June 16, 2022] in the journal Science.

Southeastern Greenland is especially remote, with narrow fjords hemmed in by steep mountains. At the inland end there are often glaciers that terminate in the water; at the other end is open ocean, with a strong south-flowing current. “These bears are very geographically isolated,” Dr. Laidre said. “They’ve really kind of evolved to being residents because that’s the only way to live down there.” The researchers estimated that this subpopulation had been isolated for at least several hundred years.

For the full story, see:

Henry Fountain. “Study Shows Polar Bears Can Survive in Coastal Areas of Little Sea Ice.” The New York Times (Saturday, June 18, 2022): A9.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 16, 2022, and has the title “‘Wholly Unexpected’: These Polar Bears Can Survive With Less Sea Ice.”)

The Science article discussed above is:

Laidre, Kristin L., Megan A. Supple, Erik W. Born, Eric V. Regehr, Øystein Wiig, Fernando Ugarte, Jon Aars, Rune Dietz, Christian Sonne, Peter Hegelund, Carl Isaksen, Geir B. Akse, Benjamin Cohen, Harry L. Stern, Twila Moon, Christopher Vollmers, Russ Corbett-Detig, David Paetkau, and Beth Shapiro. “Glacial Ice Supports a Distinct and Undocumented Polar Bear Subpopulation Persisting in Late 21st-Century Sea-Ice Conditions.” Science 376, no. 6599 (June 16, 2022): 1333-38.

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