Arctic Warming Cuts Polar Bear Cub Survival

New studies released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey provide more evidence of the effects of global warming on the Arctic and its inhabitants. Survival rates of polar bear cubs has dropped 22% in twenty years.

The new State of the Arctic analysis reported by AP Science writer Randolph Schmid details the overall pattern discovered by scientists from eight countries and multiple research facilities.

“There have been regional warming periods before. Now we’re seeing Arctic-wide changes,” James Overland, an oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, said Thursday.

For the past five years, it was at least 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above average over the Arctic over the entire year, he said.

The new “State of the Arctic” analysis, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also reports an increase in northward movement of warmer water through the Bering Strait in 2001-2004. This may have contributed to a continuing reduction of sea ice.

During that time, there were record lows in sea ice coverage in the region, Overland said. This year there was more normal coverage in the Bering area but a record low on the Atlantic side of the Arctic.

In the past when such a shift occurred, there would have been no net loss of ice overall, just a change in where there was a smaller amount. Now, however, there is both the shift and an overall net loss of ice, he said.

Indeed, the report said Arctic sea ice coverage this past March was the lowest in winter since measurements by satellite began in the early 1970s.

Jacqueline A. Richter-Menge of the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., said the sea ice decline is now being observed in both winter and summer.

According to a Reuters article by Yereth Rosen on the the U.S. Geological Survey study of polar bear club survival:

Polar bear cubs in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea are much less likely to survive compared to about 20 years ago, probably due to melting sea ice caused by global warming, a study released on Wednesday said.

The study, published by the U.S. Geological Survey, estimated that only 43 percent of polar bear cubs in the southern Beaufort Sea survived their first year during the past five years, compared to a 65 percent survival rate in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“The changes in survival of cubs are very dramatic,” said the study’s author Steven Amstrup, polar bear project leader for the USGS Alaska Science Center.

The falling survival rate comes as a warming climate has melted much of the sea ice off Alaska’s northern coast, limiting polar bears from hunting for food at the ice’s edge, Amstrup said.

The polars bears are the most obvious victims of the changes. More are on the list and the future will add to it before we can make significant progress in slowing down the changes. Federal officials are considering a proposal to give polar bears protections under the Endangered Species Act. 2007 has been designated the International Year of the Arctic, with intense scientific study of the region planned.

What can be said about the possibility that this real problem will gain much attention in a world still determined to engage in the age old practices of fear mongering, hatred and war. It stands a snowball’s chance in hell? Time is running out for mankind to learn this lesson. Indeed, An Inconvenient Truth.

Update: Related post and great pic at Truthout

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