PLoS One (Nov. 26, 2014; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0113746) / by Stephan G. Hamilton
Sea ice across the Arctic is declining and altering physical characteristics of marine ecosystems. Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) have been identified as vulnerable to changes in sea ice conditions. We use sea ice projections for the Canadian Arctic Archipelago from 2006 – 2100 to gain insight into the conservation challenges for polar bears with respect to habitat loss using metrics developed from polar bear energetics modeling.
Shifts away from multiyear ice to annual ice cover throughout the region, as well as lengthening ice-free periods, may become critical for polar bears before the end of the 21st century with projected warming. Each polar bear population in the Archipelago may undergo 2–5 months of ice-free conditions, where no such conditions exist presently. We identify spatially and temporally explicit ice-free periods that extend beyond what polar bears require for nutritional and reproductive demands.
Under business-as-usual climate projections, polar bears may face starvation and reproductive failure across the entire Archipelago by the year 2100.