In the last several decades, global warming has drastically changed life for polar bears—and not for the better. Every year, countless polar bears perish as a result of the rise in temperatures across the Arctic. But not just any temperature increase: numbers suggest that even half a degree difference can have a significant, long-term effect on the number of polar bears dying in the wild. To understand how temperatures are affecting polar bear populations—and what we can do to help—it’s important to look at the long-term effects of global warming, and how these are impacting the animal’s life cycle and habitat.
Experts agree that this acute change in temperatures has been the major contributor to the gradual decrease in polar bear populations over the last few decades. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that climate change is responsible for the reduction of two to three polar bear cubs from each litter, on average. A few degrees can mean the difference between a healthy, reproducing population and one struggling to survive. That number, however, is only part of the story: depending on site-specific conditions, some regions have seen more dramatic losses than others.
Certain elements of life in the Arctic are critical for polar bears. As top predators, they are dependent on the quality and quantity of their main food sources, such as seals and fish. As temperatures rise, and the ice melts, their hunting grounds become harder and harder to access. This process is cyclical: the loss of sea ice forces bears onto land, where they are in competition with other predators, and their food sources are limited. With fewer resources to sustain them, their health suffers, making it harder for them to find food and reproduce. This meansthat they likely become much less likely to produce viable offspring.
Innovative ideas exist to remove some of the long-term impacts of global warming on polar bears. For example, conservationists have proposed using drones to keep a watchful eye on polar bear populations. Drones that are specially outfitted with thermal imaging cameras and other high-tech equipment can help researchers predict polar bear behaviour and map food sources, allowing for more accurate predictions of the bear’s migratory patterns.
In the absence of specialized drones, there are still steps that we can take to protect polar bear populations. It is essential to limit industrial activity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, decreased pollution from mining and oil drilling would provide some respite for our beloved polar bears. It would also enhance their home, as the marine life would naturally recover more quickly.
It is clear that global warming is having a major impact on polar bear populations, and that something needs to be done. The best approach is to take on the problem head-on, embracing a combination of solutions. Implementing technological breakthroughs, reducing emissions, and increasing education and advocacy would all serve to help mitigate the effects of global warming on the polar bear populations.