Arctic sea-ice study is bad news for polar bears

Image: Polar bear
A polar bear tests the strength of thin Arctic sea ice. (Credit: Mario Hoppmann via

Scientists have long known that Arctic climate change is bad news for bears, but University of Washington researchers quantify just how bad it is in a study published today.

The study in The Cryosphere, a journal of the European Geosciences Union, is said to be the first to assess the impact of sea ice changes for 19 different populations of polar bears across the entire Arctic region, using the metrics that are most relevant to polar bear biology.

“This study shows declining sea ice for all subpopulations of polar bears,” Harry Stern, a researcher with UW’s Polar Science Center, said in an EGU news release.

The analysis draws upon 35 years’ worth of satellite data showing daily sea-ice concentration in the Arctic. There’s a consistent trend toward earlier thawing in the spring, and later freezing in the winter. Between 1979 and 2014, the total number of ice-covered days declined at the rate of 7 to 19 days per decade. Over the course of 35 years, seven weeks of good sea-ice habitat were lost.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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