Study connects greenhouse gas emissions to polar bear population declines

A warming Arctic is limiting polar bears’ access to sea ice, which the bears use as a hunting platform. In ice-free summer months the bears must fast. While in a worst-case scenario the adult bears will die, before then they will lose the ability to successfully raise cubs.

“Until now, scientists hadn’t offered the quantitative evidence to relate greenhouse gas emissions to population decline,” said second author Cecilia Bitz, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences.

In 2008, polar bears became the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act because of the threat of climate change. The biological link between warming and polar bear survival was clear, and scientists projected that up to two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear by mid-century.