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New Hope for Polar Bears

polar bear

Researchers examine a tranquilized polar bear.

Nearly three years ago, polar bears were added to the threatened species list because their icy habitat showed a steady, precipitous decline due to warming climate.

Now their outlook doesn’t appear to be quite so bleak. Scientists from several institutions, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington, have found that if humans reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly in the next 10-20 years, enough Arctic ice is likely to remain intact during late summer and early autumn for polar bears to survive.

“What we projected in 2007 was based solely on the business-as-usual greenhouse gas scenario,” says Steven Amstrup, an emeritus researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey and the senior scientist with the Montana-based conservation organization Polar Bears International. “That was a pretty dire outlook but it didn’t consider the possibility of greenhouse gas mitigation.”

The new research, published in a recent issue of Nature, is based in part on modeling proposed by Cecilia Bitz, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences. The model indicates there is no “tipping point” that would result in unstoppable loss of summer sea ice when greenhouse-gas-driven warming rose above a certain threshold.

“Our research offers a very promising, hopeful message, but it’s also an incentive for mitigating greenhouse emissions,” Bitz says.

Polar bears depend on sea ice for access to ringed and bearded seals, their primary food source. During seasons when they can’t reach sea ice, the bears mostly go without food and can lose about 2 pounds a day.
—Vince Stricherz

5 Responses to New Hope for Polar Bears

  1. Brad Roter says:

    Plz clarify: u say there is no “tipping point” if greenouse gas-based warming rises BUT don’t u mean IF we decrease emissions?

  2. Carol Muller says:

    What this article doesn’t tell us is that the world-wide polar bear populations are stable or increasing and actually very healthy. In 2006 only about 16% of the distinct populations were decreasing while almost the same number of groups were increasing. In 2010, there were reports that Canada populations were increasing so much that the big bears were a nuisance (some accounts told of a 50% increase over 3 years). In fact worldwide polar bear populations are up dramatically from thirty years ago. When single issue groups like Polar Bear International direct public policy you have to question their influence–these groups could not exist except for their fear-mongering.

    Even if you believe in man-made global warming due to CO2, you should be ashamed to promote slanted articles that are do not tell the whole story. What I learned at UW was to get the facts before making conclusions, something that seems to be forgotten by this article and other recent ones. Go back and read basic research and data collection on climate models and projections (not just the ones that show man-made warming due to CO2) and then rewrite this in a neutral fashion.

    • Robert says:

      Actually, your wrong. Prior to the 1980′s, any estimate done on the population of polar bears relied solely on the tales of hunters and explorers rather than an actual scientific survey, ergo making them unreliable sources. Since the 1980s the world population of Polar Bears may have decreased as much as 40% to as little as 5%. There are many different sources, all of which have actual scientific basis. Regardless of the number, there has still been a decrease in overall population.

      As for the rise in certain populations… Well yes, obviously, due to climate change and the resulting loss of traditional habitat, polar bears have been moving into habitats where they can access more food.

      These new habitats often cross human settled terrain, such as you mentioned in Canada. Hungry bears will go where there is food and humans have shown to be very good at throwing out excess foods. The bears, a nuisance as you put, are only trying to survive.

      As it is, with traditional habitats still decreasing, without a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the ice will continue to melt and polar bears will be forced to invade human territory more and more hunting livestock and scavenging through human waste.

      Anyone who does not believe in man made CO2 induced global warming, obviously has no interest in knowing facts.

      As it is, the decrease in Polar Bear populations are not among the most significant damages caused by Global Warming, That is true. But they act as symbol to the devastating phenomenon affecting our planet.

    • Ray says:

      I suggest that you look to other news sources besides FOX News before you claim foul on this article and their apparent bias. You obviously don’t know what you are talking about.

  3. Rose says:

    So, is the article correct? Not correct? What? How can all of you sound so plausible. Who are the “experts” who put together the original article. I expect more than this from my alma mater.

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