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Climate Change: Polar Bears May be Most at Risk from Global Warming

First Posted: Jul 03, 2015 07:29 PM EDT
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It turns out that the polar bear's main threat may be global warming. Scientists have taken a closer look at the state of polar bears and have found that climate change will worsen the state of their populations in their range.

In this case, the researchers used models to examine the prognosis for polar bear populations in the four ecoregions comprising their range using current sea ice projects from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for two greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Both scenarios examined how greenhouse gas emissions may affect polar bears: one looked at stabilization in climate warming by century's end because of reduced GHG emission, and the other looked at unabated (unchanged) rates of GHG emissions, leading to increased warming by century's end.

"Addressing sea ice loss will require global policy solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and likely be years in the making," said Mike Runge, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Because carbon emissions accumulate over time, there will be a lag, likely on the order of several decades, between mitigation of emissions and meaningful stabilization of sea ice loss."

The models actually evaluated specific threats to polar bears, such as sea ice loss, prey availability, hunting and increased human activities. In the end, they found that substantial sea ice loss and expected declines in the availability of marine prey that polar bears eat are the most important specific reasons for the increasingly worse outlook for polar bear populations. More specifically, greenhouse gases are significantly important when it comes to polar bear populations.

The findings reveal that polar bears are animals that are among the first to be at risk due to climate change. Currently, scientists recommend that officials take action to reduce greenhouse gas emission and institute policies to preserve polar bear species.

The findings are published online.

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