Scientists who studied and tracked the bears decided that they survive regardless of having restricted entry to sea ice — one thing that’s important for polar bears — and as an alternative use the freshwater ice equipped by Greenland’s ice sheet.
“We needed to survey this area as a result of we did not know a lot concerning the polar bears in Southeast Greenland, however we by no means anticipated to discover a new subpopulation dwelling there,” stated lead examine writer Kristin Laidre, a polar analysis scientist on the College of Washington’s Utilized Physics Laboratory, in a press release.
“We knew there have been some bears within the space from historic data and Indigenous information. We simply did not know the way particular they had been.”
An icy necessity
Touring far, the 19 identified polar bear populations depend on sea ice to hunt their prey, like ringed seals, and sit close to respiration holes to seize their prey. The energy offered by seals may also help them retailer vitality for months when meals and sea ice is extra scarce.
International warming is inflicting sea ice to quickly soften and disappear because the Arctic warms greater than twice as quick as the remainder of the planet. When sea ice disappears, polar bears should transfer on land, which affords them fewer alternatives for meals.
In the meantime, the southeast Greenland polar bears have a tendency to stay near dwelling, in order that they have tailored to their atmosphere in a novel method. Though they’re remoted as a result of Greenland ice sheet, mountains, open water and fast-flowing coastal currents, the polar bears have entry to freshwater ice and a few restricted entry to sea ice, which helps them catch seals.
The bears can use sea ice between February and late Might. For the remainder of the yr, they hunt seals utilizing the freshwater ice because it breaks away from the ice sheet.
“Polar bears are threatened by sea ice loss as a consequence of local weather change. This new inhabitants offers us some perception into how the species would possibly persist into the long run,” stated Laidre, additionally a College of Washington affiliate professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.
“However we have to be cautious about extrapolating our findings, as a result of the glacier ice that makes it doable for Southeast Greenland bears to outlive will not be out there in a lot of the Arctic.”
The atmosphere of southeast Greenland is a novel, small-scale local weather refuge the place the bears can survive, and comparable habitats could be discovered alongside Greenland’s coast and the Norwegian island of Svalbard.
“Some of these glaciers do exist somewhere else within the Arctic, however the mixture of the fjord shapes, the excessive manufacturing of glacier ice and the very huge reservoir of ice that’s out there from the Greenland Ice Sheet is what at the moment supplies a gentle provide of glacier ice,” stated examine coauthor Twila Moon, deputy lead scientist on the US Nationwide Snow and Ice Knowledge Middle in Boulder, Colorado, in a press release.
“In a way, these bears present a glimpse into how Greenland’s bears might fare underneath future local weather situations,” Laidre stated. “The ocean ice circumstances in Southeast Greenland at this time resemble what’s predicted for Northeast Greenland by late this century.”
The brand new examine is comprised of 30 years of historic knowledge from Greenland’s east coast and 7 years of latest knowledge from the southeastern coast. The latter is a distant area with sharp mountains, heavy snow and unpredictable climate, making it troublesome to review.
The analysis group spent two years consulting with polar bear subsistence hunters, who hunt for survival, slightly than sport, in jap Greenland. The hunters had been capable of share their experience and contribute samples for genetic evaluation.
The, working with the Greenland Institute of Pure Sources Nuuk, Greenland, had been capable of examine and observe the bears utilizing helicopters because the researchers flew over sea ice, estimating that there are a number of hundred bears dwelling within the distant space. That is just like different small populations of polar bears elsewhere.
The feminine southeastern Greenland polar bears are extra diminutive than feminine polar bears in different areas. The smaller bears have fewer cubs as effectively, which might be linked to looking for mates as they journey the encompassing fjords and mountains. However the researchers will not know for certain till they’ve extra knowledge from long-term monitoring of the bears.
The bears both journey over ice inside fjords or climb over mountains to succeed in neighboring fjords. Of the 27 bears tracked throughout the examine, half of them by chance floated for about 120 miles (190 kilometers) south on common, caught on small ice floes caught inside the sturdy East Greenland coastal present.
As soon as the bears had an opportunity, they only hopped off of the ice and trekked again to the fjord they name dwelling. Created by glaciers, fjords are lengthy, slim, deep sea inlets discovered between excessive cliffs.
“Even with fast adjustments occurring on the ice sheet, this space in Greenland has the potential to proceed to supply glacial ice, with a coast that will look just like at this time, for a very long time,” Moon stated.
The researchers warn, nevertheless, that this habitat is probably not sufficient for different polar bears struggling within the wake of the local weather disaster.
“If you happen to’re involved about preserving the species, then sure, our findings are hopeful — I feel they present us how some polar bears would possibly persist underneath local weather change,” Laidre stated.
“However I do not suppose glacier habitat goes to assist large numbers of polar bears. There’s simply not sufficient of it. We nonetheless count on to see giant declines in polar bears throughout the Arctic underneath local weather change.”
The researchers consider the southeast Greenland polar bears have developed in isolation for a number of hundred years. The earliest identified reference to bears on this location dates to the 1300s, and the primary written document of the animals among the many area’s fjords is from the 1830s, in response to the examine authors.
The standing of the polar bears stays unknown. Researchers do not know if the inhabitants is steady, growing or lowering, however extra monitoring may reveal what the long run holds for this distinctive inhabitants, Laidre stated.
As a result of their isolation, the polar bears are so genetically distinct that the researchers that the southeastern Greenland polar bears ought to be thought of the twentieth subpopulation of the species.
In the end, that dedication is as much as the Worldwide Union for the Conservation of Nature, which helps to supervise protected species. And Greenland’s authorities will make any selections relating to safety for the bears.
“Preserving the genetic variety of polar bears is essential going ahead underneath local weather change,” Laidre stated. “Formally recognizing these bears as a separate inhabitants might be necessary for conservation and administration.”
In the meantime, sea ice continues to say no within the Arctic, which significantly reduces survival charges for many polar bear populations going ahead.
“Local weather motion is the only most necessary factor for the way forward for polar bears,” Laidre stated.