Satellite data reveals more bad news for polar bears

A frame-filling portrait of a male polar bear (Ursus maritimus) jumping in the pack ice. The young male, probably due to a mix of curiosity and hunger, got really close to our ship - less than 20 meters. Svalbard, Norway.

A frame-filling portrait of a male polar bear (Ursus maritimus) jumping in the pack ice. The young male, probably due to a mix of curiosity and hunger, got really close to our ship – less than 20 meters. Svalbard, Norway.

Scientists from the US predict that polar bears will decline by a third over the next few decades due to rising temperatures that cause loss of sea ice. The prediction was presented at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco as part of research carried out by scientists.

The research has been conducted using satellite data which shows loss of Artic sea ice, the primary habitat for polar bears. Polar bears currently number around 26,000 across 19 sub-populations and rely on sea ice for mating, rearing young and hunting prey. Experts now believe this total could reduce by 8,600 bears in the next 35-40 years. The effects of the habitat loss seen so far are thought to vary across population with some populations seeing steep declines in numbers. Populations seeing less of a decline may have been impacted less due to greater prey availability. Polar bears have been classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List since 2008.

Warmer climates are also believed to threaten wild reindeer and caribou, which are both in decline. It is thought that warmer climates hamper migration patterns and subsequently a loss of young.

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Jess Webster

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