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Global Climate Change Digest

A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
Published July 1988 through June 1999


Polar Bears and Caribou

Item #d98nov39

On Nov. 3, the Environmental News Network (ENN; reported that the impacts of global warming are endangering polar bears in the Arctic, and Greenpeace says that the melting and retreat of Arctic sea ice may contribute to the extinction of the species. Scientists studying Arctic sea ice have determined that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Scientists of the SHEBA expedition found the ice to be much thinner, much warmer, and less salty because of melting of the pack ice. Because polar bears feed nearly exclusively at the ice edge on ringed seals, the retreat and melting of that ice reduces their habitat and food source. As a result, more bears may become trapped on or near shore, scavenging in garbage dumps and becoming nuisances and threats to the human population.

In a separate press release carried by Reuters on Oct 19, Greenpeace claimed that climate change is threatening a rare caribou that lives in Canada’s arctic islands, saying that the population of the Peary caribou has declined to about 75 animals from about 24,000 animals in 1961. The caribou is the same species as European reindeer, which have been mostly domesticated. But Peary caribou do not gather in large herds; they live scattered in small groups. Warmer temperatures have produced a moister climate with heavier snows. The deeper snowpack covers the moss and lichen that make up the caribou’s food sources, and they die of starvation. As a result, the Peary caribou faces extinction. Other varieties, such as the porcupine caribou that now number about 160,000 in northwestern Canada and eastern Alaska, are also threatened by climate change according to Greenpeace studies.

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