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Svalbard’s polar bears are sending messages to scientists

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Each morning, Jon Aars, a senior researcher on the Norwegian Polar Institute, receives a batch of emails from a number of feminine polar bears within the Excessive Arctic, checking in and letting him know the place they’re. “It is all the time a pleasant approach to begin the day,” he says.

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Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago north of the mainland, is a perfect place for Aars to review a piece of the world’s estimated 26,000 remaining polar bears. “(There are) about 300 dwelling in Svalbard year-round,” he explains, “for those who fly for one hour, more often than not you discover one.”

Annually, Aars and his colleagues on the Institute seize round 70 polar bears and match them with a monitoring collar which constantly logs motion. As soon as a day the collar makes a satellite tv for pc name, transmitting the final 24 hours of knowledge again to the Institute, the place it lands in Aars’ inbox.

“Knowledge from motion has been crucial to know how they react and the way they could reply to local weather change,” Aars explains.

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These giant mammals are canaries on this frigid coal mine. A warming local weather means an unlimited quantity of sea ice is melting within the area, and rising temperatures are additionally stopping seasonal ice — which melts and recurs yearly — from forming in locations it as soon as did. A number of seal species — polar bears’ essential prey — depend on sea ice, Aars explains, and as a rule, the place sea ice may be discovered, so too polar bears. However these creatures are being pressured to maneuver with the instances.

“As a result of situations change, (polar bears) will use extra time on land and search for completely different choices,” he explains. “They hunt reindeer, they are going to take extra birds and eggs. We’ve got seen that bears are in several areas than they was — a lot additional north.”

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Together with the monitoring collar, the Institute weighs bears and takes samples to observe their well being and food plan, in addition to testing for proof of pollution. The collar can even document physique temperature, which might inform scientists if a bear has moved inside a den — a sign the animal goes to offer beginning.

A sedated polar bear on exposed ground in Svalbard.

Sea ice loss can also be having an impression on the place polar bears are born, says Aars: “A layer of sea ice on high of the ocean makes it attainable for bears to stroll lengthy distances. Necessary areas that they used to go to offer beginning to cubs are kind of misplaced, as a result of you do not have sea ice on these islands anymore.”

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Bears are actually swimming so far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) to achieve an island den, he provides, one thing they didn’t have to do 20 years in the past.

“Polar bears are optimistic animals,” Aars says. “Evidently they’re fairly resistant, and they’re doing fairly nicely even if they’ve misplaced lots of their habitat.” Regardless of the chances, Svalbard’s polar bear numbers don’t seem to have decreased within the final 20 years, he says.

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That will not all the time be the case, although. In line with NASA, summer time ice within the Arctic is shrinking by greater than 13% every decade, and this yr the Nationwide Snow and Ice Knowledge Heart (NSIDC) reported the second lowest levels of summer sea ice ever recorded. The 14 lowest ranges of sea ice have all occurred prior to now 14 years, in accordance the NSIDC.
Aars, who has worked on Svalbard since 2003, says "glaciers are not where they used to be," and have retreated hundreds of meters, even kilometers.

Put merely, the prognosis will not be good. “You do not discover polar bears anyplace within the Arctic the place you do not have sea ice not less than seasonally,” says Aars. “Change is so vital and so quick, we’ll attain some stage sooner or later the place it should get a lot more durable to be a polar bear in Svalbard.”

Within the meantime, his analysis might reveal easy methods to assist his pen buddies maintain out just a little longer.

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“What’s essential for us is that every one this knowledge tells us how they are going to reply sooner or later,” he provides. “In fact, you can not do so much … however for those who nonetheless have some sea ice, sufficient that they might be capable of be there, then it is rather essential to know what else you are able to do to ensure these species can do in addition to attainable.”

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