Greenbelt MD (SPX) Jun 21, 2022 Greenland's fjords harbor a unique group of polar bears that rely...
Greenland's fjords harbor a unique group of polar bears that rely on glacial ice, a NASA-funded study reports in Science.
Polar bears throughout the Arctic depend on sea ice as a platform for hunting seals.
As human-caused climate change warms the planet and Arctic sea ice melts away, polar bears are scrambling to find ice to hunt on.
In Southeast Greenland, researchers found that bears survive for most of the year in fjords by relying on ice melanges, a mix of sea ice and pieces of glacial ice that is carved off of marine-terminating glaciers.
An international team of scientists, including those from the University of Washington and the National Snow Ice and Data Center, tracked bears in Southeast Greenland for seven years and combined their new data with genetic analysis and three decades of historical data from Greenland's whole east coast.
Their findings revealed that the Southeast Greenland bears are cut off from sea ice two-thirds of the year, and supplement their hunting by using freshwater ice slabs, which routinely break off from the Greenland Ice Sheet and coastal glaciers.
Southeast Greenland's sea ice resembles now what researchers expect ice conditions in Northeast Greenland will look like in the late 21st century due to climate change.
The authors caution that glacier ice can't provide habitat for many bears, because relatively few places drop large quantities of glacier ice into the ocean.
Polar bear numbers will likely decrease in the majority of the Arctic where they rely solely on sea ice.
Research Report:Glacial ice supports a distinct and undocumented polar bear subpopulation persisting in late 21st-century sea-ice conditions.