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Warming climate may put chill on arctic polar bear population

Some travel agencies touting Arctic tours have been revving up their recent promotions to tourists about the increased likelihood they will spot polar bears in this region where several populations of polar bears live. According to scientists from NASA and the Canadian Wildlife Service, these increased Arctic polar bear sightings are probably related to retreating sea ice triggered by climate warming and not due to population increases as some may believe.

The new research suggests that progressively earlier breakup of the Arctic sea ice, stimulated by climate warming, shortens the spring hunting season for female polar bears in Western Hudson Bay and is likely responsible for the continuing fall in the average weight of these bears. As females become lighter, their ability to reproduce and the survival of their young decline. Also, as the bears become thinner, they are more likely to push into human settlements for food, giving the impression that the population is increasing. The study will be published this week in the September issue of the Journal Arctic.

Claire Parkinson, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., and Ian Stirling, a senior scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, Edmonton, Alberta, used NASA satellite observations captured from 1979 to 2004 to show the reduction in sea ice cover in several specific areas where there are known polar bear populations. In most of the areas studied, they found that ice break-up in these areas has been occurring progressively earlier.

"Our research strongly suggests that climate warming is having a significant and negative effect on a primary species reliant on the sea-ice cover for survival," said Parkinson.

The researchers studied the sea ice in regions that are home to five different polar bear populations: western Hudson Bay, eastern Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin, Baffin Bay and Davis Strait-Labrador Sea. "Polar bears live much of their lives on t
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Contact: Rob Gutro
rgutro@pop900.gsfc.nasa.gov
301-286-4044
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
13-Sep-2006


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