Sunday, November 20, 2005

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Polar bears face up to warmer future

On the shore of the Hudson Bay in Northern Canada, a huge male polar bear stretches and yawns, sniffs the air and rolls back onto his side to sleep.

It is mid-November and bitterly cold. The sea wind blows through our protective coats and our fingers start to lose circulation. But ironically, what we are witnessing is climate warming in action.

Temperatures in western Hudson Bay have been steadily rising 0.3 to 0.4 degrees every decade since 1950.

Scientists at the US space agency's (Nasa) Goddard Space Flight Center, who have been monitoring the sea-ice from satellite data, believe it could be retreating at a rate of up to 9% every 10 years.

Click here to see a map of polar bears' range

Each autumn, polar bears in this part of Canada migrate north, heading for the sea-ice which begins to form about now and stays solid until late spring the following year.

Graph showing ice decline (NSIDC)
The straight line tracks a more than 8% decline per decade
By sniffing the air, the bears know when the temperature is dropping and the sea is beginning to freeze.

The bear, who has been named Echo by scientists, should by now be way out on the frozen waters hunting for seals.

He has not had a proper meal since the ice broke up in July. He is hungry and losing up to a kilogram in body fat every day.

For the past 30 years or so, people living in Canada's north have been noticing a phenomenon that many scientists now believe is a direct result of our planet warming up.

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