|Climate Change and Polar Bears
Northern Icon in Peril: Global Warming Threatens the World’s Polar Bears
Polar bears are the world’s largest land predators, and the most majestic creature of the Far North. But dramatic changes, caused by global warming, are taking place in the Arctic that threaten the survival of this spectacular species.
Global warming is melting the polar ice caps, robbing the bears of the ice floes they need to hunt prey. As the annual sea ice melts, polar bears are forced ashore to spend their summers fasting.
The polar bear’s home – the Arctic – is experiencing the effects of global warming more than any other place. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at almost twice the rate of that of the rest of the world, and it is threatening to place the entire Arctic ecosystem in jeopardy.
Since 1979 the extent of summer ice has declined by about 30 percent (2) – sea ice that not only provides hunting ground for polar bears, but shelter and transportation for seals, walrus, arctic foxes, and the Inuit people. The underside provides a surface for algae that supports cod, char, beluga, and narwhal. The white sea ice also has a cooling effect on climate by reflecting light away from Earth’s surface. As it melts, global warming advances even more quickly.
The United States designated the polar bear as threatened in May 2008. Since 1991, Canada's scientific Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has placed them in a less serious category, as a species of special concern.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature added the polar bear to its "Red List" of the world's most imperiled wildlife in 2006. In 2009, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) cited climate change as the greatest challenge to the conservation of polar bears, and concluded that 1 of 19 subpopulations is currently increasing, 3 are stable and 8 are declining. For the remaining 7 subpopulations available data were insufficient to provide an assessment of current trend.
(1) Sources: 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the product of four years of work by more than 300 scientists and from 2009 Climate Change and Species report commissioned by WWF.
(2) Source: National Geographic, July 2011