On Friday, the US Geological Survey put out a press release about its new findings on polar bears and their future, and the press responded en masse: Google offers hundreds of stories filed over the weekend. The reports’ conclusion (AP | New York Times) is that diminishing sea ice is a serious problem for the bears, with two thirds of them at risk over the next fifty years – maybe more if, as the report recognises, current estimates of ice loss are too conservative. Most quoted quote: “As the sea ice goes, so goes the polar bear” — Steven Amstrup, the lead author of the new studies.
Some bear populations, such as those of Alaska, are expected to die out completely, which is naturally enough the lead in the Anchorage Daily News. If you’re a polar bear, the place you want to be is what the USGS calls the “convergent ice ecoregion” (a term that doesn’t seem to turn up in the news); this is where the currents pile up ice that can persist for years on the northern shores of the Canadian islands and down the eastern side of Greenland. You don’t want to be west of Greenland or in Baffin Bay, where the ice is seasonal ice and likely to vanish, or on the north shores of Russia and Alaska, where the currents move what ice there is away from the shore (the “divergent ice ecoregion”).
The reports are part of the process by which the US government will decide whether to put polar bears on the endangered species list (earlier Nature story). Geoffrey Lean, at the Independent, pulls the USGS report together with his paper’s investigation into polar bear hunting, which is apparently on the increase. Lean and others also bring up a meeting of religious, scientific and political leaders that’s been going on in Ilulissat , where “leaders of Christian, Shia, Sunni, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhist and Jewish religions took a boat to the tongue of the glacier for a silent prayer for the planet” while Robert Correll, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, warned of “a massive acceleration of the speed with which these glaciers are moving into the sea,” according to Paul Brown in the Guardian.
Meanwhile, almost all of the stories also mention the current reduced area of Arctic sea ice, which this year has already reached a record low and is expected to keep shrinking for a week or so more. The US National Snow and Ice Data Center is keeping a close eye on the situation with regular updates and a lot of interesting data, not to mention a really nice animation that shows how the ice cover evolves over many years (found via and easily seen at Steinn Sigurdsson’s Dynamics of Cats) which explains more about the convergent and divergent ecoregions than a static map ever could.
Images: Grzegorz Polak, distributed under Creative Commons license; Wikimedia