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ALERT: Shorter Sea Ice Season in Arctic Could Endanger 19 Polar Bear Populations

Oct 04, 2016 04:49 AM EDT

A new study from the University of Washington revealed that the shorter sea ice season in the Arctic brought about climate change can negatively impact 19 separate polar bear populations living throughout the arctic.

The study, published in the journal The Cryosphere, suggests that trend of earlier snowmelt in the spring and later ice growth in the fall could negatively influence the feeding and breeding capabilities of the polar bears.

"These spring and fall transitions bound the period when there is good ice habitat available for bears to feed," explained Kristin Laidre, a researcher at the UW's Polar Science Center and co-author of the study, in a press release. "Those periods are also tied to the breeding season when bears find mates, and when females come out of their maternity dens with very small cubs and haven't eaten for months."

For the study, the researchers analyzed 35 years worth of satellite data provided by NASA. These satellite data show sea ice concentration each day in the Arctic. The researchers found that the total number of ice-covered days across the nineteen populations of polar bears in the Arctic have declined at the rate of seven to 19 days per decade between 1979 and 2014. Additionally, sea ice concentration during summer months have also declined in all regions by 1 percent to 9 percent per decade.

Furthermore, the researchers observed that spring melting occurs three to nine days earlier per decade, while fall freeze-up occurs three to nine days later per decade.

The arctic sea ice is considered to be the "platform for life" of polar bears. When the daylight appears and warms up the region during springtime the ice sheets retreat. In the fall months, the temperature drops once again, making it possible for the ice sheets to build. Polar bears spend most of their winters and springs roaming in the sea ice looking for food. Polar bear's favorite source of nutrition is seals. However, polar bears are not built for a chase. This is why they prefer to stand in wait in a platform and ambush seals at breathing holes or break through the ice to reach the seals' den.

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