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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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At a glance - How will global warming affect polar bears?

Posted on 23 January 2024 by John Mason, BaerbelW

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "How will global warming affect polar bears?". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

Fact Myth Box - Bear

At a glance

Ursus maritimus. The Latin name for the world's largest bear hints at its high dependence on the seas around the Arctic. Polar bears are an apex predator that depend on seals for their food. Because of that dependence they mostly live and hunt out on the sea-ice. Excellent swimmers, they are equipped with the means to swim in the frigid Arctic waters. Thick body fat and a heavy, water-repellent coat make such a lifestyle feasible.

Polar bears live in 19 distinct groups around the Arctic. We don't have great data on eight of the groups. Arctic fieldwork is fraught with logistical problems, especially out on the sea-ice. Regarding the other groups, as of 2017, five are regarded as stable. Two are increasing whereas four are declining. Therefore, it's a mixed picture.

The reason why the picture is mixed lies in the four distinct eco-regions making up the Arctic. Let's look at these. Firstly there is the Seasonal Ice Ecoregion off Canada. Here, the ice has always melted in the summer. The bears hunt voraciously before that happens and then go through a seasonal fast on land. Unfortunately, because the ice-melt is beginning earlier and ending later, the fast period is getting longer, causing malnutrition and cub mortality. This bear population is the one that is definitely declining.

Stretching from Alaska to Svalbard is the Divergent Ice Ecoregion. Here, the ocean currents constantly move the sea-ice offshore as it forms. In summer, new ice does not form and a wide gap of open water exists between sea-ice and the land. Offshore, the sea ice is over the depths of the Arctic ocean - an area of relatively low food productivity. The seals remain near land, in the more productive shallows. Again, the problem facing the bears is the increased length of the ice-free season, for the same reasons as above. Bears living in this region are particularly vulnerable.

In the Convergent Ice Ecoregion, from the North Barents Sea around to Eastern Greenland, ice collects along the shore. The bears living in this region therefore have constant access to ice over shallow productive seas. Finally, there is the Archipelago Ecoregion, around the islands of the Canadian Arctic. Here too, the polar bears have been able to remain on the ice all year round. Both Ecoregions are therefore a known or potential stronghold for them.

The primary threat to all of these regions is obviously sea-ice loss due to climate change. As the sea-ice retreats, the bears have to spend more time on land. This can bring them into contact with human populations and such encounters tend not to end well.

Polar bears belong on the sea-ice. The long term trend for sea-ice extent is downward. Even if some populations are stable or even increasing, it's an uneven picture due to the differing characteristics of the regions they inhabit. Rapid Arctic climate change - Arctic Amplification as it's known - is real. Concern for this magnificent creature is entirely justified.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!


Click for Further details

In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

Myths with link to rebuttal Short URLs
Ice age predicted in the 1970s sks.to/1970s
It hasn't warmed since 1998 sks.to/1998
Antarctica is gaining ice sks.to/antarctica
CRU emails suggest conspiracy sks.to/climategate
What evidence is there for the hockey stick sks.to/hockey
CO2 lags temperature sks.to/lag
Climate's changed before sks.to/past
It's the sun sks.to/sun
Temperature records are unreliable sks.to/temp
The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics sks.to/thermo
We're heading into an ice age sks.to/iceage
Positives and negatives of global warming sks.to/impacts
The 97% consensus on global warming sks.to/consensus
Global cooling - Is global warming still happening? sks.to/cooling
How reliable are climate models? sks.to/model
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming? sks.to/species
What's the link between cosmic rays and climate change? sks.to/cosmic
Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate? sks.to/gore
Are glaciers growing or retreating? sks.to/glacier
Ocean acidification: global warming's evil twin sks.to/acid
The human fingerprint in global warming sks.to/agw
Empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming sks.to/evidence
How do we know more CO2 is causing warming? sks.to/greenhouse
Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works sks.to/vapor
The tricks employed by the flawed OISM Petition Project to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change sks.to/OISM
Is extreme weather caused by global warming? sks.to/extreme
How substances in trace amounts can cause large effects sks.to/trace
How much is sea level rising? sks.to/sealevel
Is CO2 a pollutant? sks.to/pollutant
Does cold weather disprove global warming? sks.to/cold
Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans? sks.to/volcano
How do human CO2 emissions compare to natural CO2 emissions? sks.to/co2
Climate scientists could make more money in other careers sks.to/money
How reliable are CO2 measurements? sks.to/co2data
Do high levels of CO2 in the past contradict the warming effect of CO2? sks.to/pastco2
What is the net feedback of clouds? sks.to/cloud
Global warming vs climate change sks.to/name
Is Mars warming? sks.to/mars
How the IPCC is more likely to underestimate the climate response sks.to/underestimat
How sensitive is our climate? sks.to/sensitivity
Evidence for global warming sks.to/warming
Has the greenhouse effect been falsified? sks.to/falsify
Does breathing contribute to CO2 buildup in the atmosphere? sks.to/breath
What is causing the increase in atmospheric CO2? sks.to/CO2increase
What is methane's contribution to global warming? sks.to/methane
Plants cannot live on CO2 alone sks.to/plant
Is the CO2 effect saturated? sks.to/saturate
Greenhouse warming 100 times greater than waste heat sks.to/waste
How will global warming affect polar bears? sks.to/bear

 

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