Scientific Predictions And Models On Polar Bear Extinction

by | Jun 29, 2024 | Environment, Wildlife

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Polar bears (Ursus maritimus), the Arctic’s symbolic residents, face severe dangers from climate change. As apex predators, they are not only essential to the Arctic ecosystem but also act as indicators of the health of their surroundings. Over the last few decades, scientific predictions and models have increasingly warned of the possibility of polar bear extinction if current climate change trends continue. This article examines the techniques behind these projections and the conclusions and ramifications for polar bear populations.

Scientific Predictions and Models on Polar Bear Extinction

Let’s have a look at some scientific predictions and models indicating polar bear extinction in the near future:

1. Climate Models on Melting Ice

Polar bear extinction forecasts are centred on reducing Arctic sea ice, their primary habitat. Polar bears use sea ice for hunting, seals, procreating, and even as a den. Satellite data show that the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice have decreased significantly during the last 40 years. This drop has been attributed to rising global temperatures caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reports that the extent of Arctic sea ice has decreased at an average rate of 13.1% per decade since 1979.

Scientific Predictions And Models On Polar Bear Extinction

Climate models replicating the Earth’s climate system have proven helpful in projecting future sea ice conditions. According to these projections, if global temperatures continue to climb, Arctic sea ice may melt almost entirely during summer by the end of this century. For example, a 2020 study published in Nature Climate Change predicted that polar bears in some places will starve and fail to reproduce by 2040 due to prolonged ice-free summers.

Another noteworthy study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveals that the Arctic could experience ice-free summers by 2040 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate.

2. Population Viability Analysis (PVA)

Scientists also utilise population viability analysis (PVA) to predict the risks of polar bear extinction. PVA entails developing mathematical models that incorporate a variety of parameters influencing polar bear populations, including birth and mortality rates, food availability, and habitat conditions. These models may simulate how populations shift in response to various environmental change scenarios.

A notable study utilising PVA, published in Ecological Applications in 2007, indicated that polar bear populations will drop by more than 30% by 2050 unless greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) models, polar bears in the southern Beaufort Sea and western Hudson Bay are especially susceptible due to earlier and more widespread sea ice disintegration. The study reveals that the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population has already declined by approximately 40% from 2001 to 2010.

3. Projections of Polar Bear Habitat Loss by 2050

Researchers have developed polar bear habitat loss projections by mid-century based on climate change scenarios. These projections often use satellite data and climate models to estimate future sea ice coverage. Many studies, including one by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), predict a significant 5% reduction in suitable polar bear habitat by 2050, particularly in the southern range of their distribution, where ice is melting fastest. Another study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveals up to two-thirds of the world’s polar bear population could be gone by 2050 due to habitat loss from melting sea ice.

4. Energetic Models

Energetic models focus on polar bears’ energy balance—how much energy they require to survive, grow, and reproduce vs how much power they can receive from their surroundings. These models can anticipate how changes in sea ice and prey availability would affect polar bear health and survival.

The study, published in Science in 2018, used energetic models to show that dwindling sea ice drives polar bears to waste more energy swimming longer distances and hunting in less optimum conditions. The study discovered that many bears cannot achieve their calorie requirements during these prolonged ice-free months, resulting in malnutrition and poorer survival rates.

5. Genetic Studies and Adaptive Potential

Genetic research has also helped us better grasp the hazards of polar bear extinction. Scientists can use genetic diversity to predict how healthy populations adapt to changing circumstances. Low genetic diversity may indicate diminished adaptation ability, rendering populations more susceptible to extinction.

A study published in Biology Letters 2012 raised concerns about the genetic bottleneck effect in polar bears, implying that their genetic diversity declines as populations shrink and become more isolated owing to habitat degradation. The study found that polar bears have approximately 5-10% less genetic diversity than brown bears. This loss of diversity may limit the species’ ability to adapt to rapid environmental changes, raising extinction risks.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the projections and models for polar bear extinction provide a bleak future picture if current climate trends persist. The convergence of data from climate models, PVAs, energetic models, and genetic research emphasises the importance of combating global warming and safeguarding Arctic habitats. While polar bear populations have considerable adaptive capacity, the rapid rate of environmental change presents substantial problems.

Mitigating the risk of polar bear extinction needs worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implement conservation methods, and protect critical ecosystems. Polar bear survival is inextricably linked to the broader effects of climate change, making it a compelling indicator of the importance of overall environmental management. If sufficient efforts are made, there is optimism that polar bears will continue to thrive in the Arctic, preserving their critical role in the ecosystem and symbolising nature’s resilience in the face of human-caused challenges.

Also Read: The Arctic Tundra: A Biome Of Cold And Resilience

 

Author

  • Dr. Emily Greenfield

    Dr. Emily Greenfield is a highly accomplished environmentalist with over 30 years of experience in writing, reviewing, and publishing content on various environmental topics. Hailing from the United States, she has dedicated her career to raising awareness about environmental issues and promoting sustainable practices.

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