The Arctic Ocean is critical for the survival of wild polar bears. Parts of the landscape remain frozen all year, with one region expected to stay frozen for longer than any other.
The Wandel Sea area, which is north of Greenland, typically retains thick ice throughout the year.
With record melting happening in 2020, researchers fear changing climate conditions could put this beloved species at risk of extinction.
Sailors Found Large Stretches of Open Water
The Polarstern is a German research vessel that explores the northern seas. When they entered the Wandel Sea last year, they encountered stretches of open water that shouldn’t have been there.
After this discovery, scientists used sea ice models and satellite images to piece together what was happening in the region.
Strong winds moved most of the sea ice out of the area, with thinner and newer ice working to displace the patches of thicker and older spots.
Canada was so concerned about the issue in 2019 that the government designated part of this last ice area as a marine protected environment. Although climate models likely need to be re-examined to determine the accuracy of the findings, most surveys didn’t predict that much loss until several decades in the future.
That means polar bears aren’t having much luck finding food. They rely on seals and other sea creatures to appear in holes from the ice to breathe for hunting. Without this advantage, the results could be devastating for the species.