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


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