Toronto: Polar bears may face starvation and reproductive failure by the year 2100 due to heavy loss of Arctic sea ice, a new study has warned.
Shifts in the timing and duration of Arctic ice cover, especially the possible lengthening of ice-free periods, may impact polar bear population under projected warming before the end of this century, researchers said.
Sea ice across the Arctic is declining and altering physical characteristics of marine ecosystems, and polar bears are vulnerable to these changes in sea ice conditions.
Researcher Stephen Hamilton from University of Alberta and colleagues used sea ice projections for the Canadian Arctic Archipelago from 2006-2100 and metrics developed from polar bear energetics modelling to gain insight into the conservation challenges for polar bears facing habitat loss.
Shifts away from multi-year 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, the study found.
Under business-as-usual climate projections, polar bears may face starvation and reproductive failure across the entire Archipelago by the year 2100.
"We predict that nearly one-tenth of the world's polar bear habitat, as much as one-quarter of their global population, may undergo significant habitat loss under business-as-usual climate projections," said Hamilton.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.