Climate change diet: Arctic sea ice thins, so do polar bears

In this April 15, 2015 photo provided by the United States Geological Survey, a polar bear wearing a GPS video-camera collar lies on a chunk of sea ice in the Beaufort Sea. (AP)
Updated 02 February 2018
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Climate change diet: Arctic sea ice thins, so do polar bears

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: Some polar bears in the Arctic are shedding pounds during the time they should be beefing up, a new study shows. It’s the climate change diet and scientists say it’s not good.
They blame global warming for the dwindling ice cover on the Arctic Ocean that bears need for hunting seals each spring.
For their research, the scientists spied on the polar bears by equipping nine female white giants with tracking collars that had video cameras and the bear equivalent of a Fitbit during three recent springs. The bears also had their blood monitored and were weighed.
What the scientists found is that five of the bears lost weight and four of them lost 2.9 to 5.5 pounds (1.3 to 2.5 kilograms) per day. The average polar bear studied weighed about 386 pounds (175 kilograms). One bear lost 51 pounds (23 kilograms) in just nine days.
“You’re talking a pretty amazing amount of mass to lose,” said US Geological Survey wildlife biologist Anthony Pagano, lead author of a new study in Thursday’s journal Science .
Researchers studied the bears for 10 days in April, when they are supposed to begin putting on weight so they can later have cubs, feed the cubs and survive through the harsh winter. But because the ice is shrinking, the bears are having a harder time catching seal pups even during prime hunting time, Pagano said. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service lists polar bears as a threatened species.
Polar bears hunt from the ice. They often wait for seals to pop out of holes to get air and at other times they swim after seals. If there is less sea ice and it is broken apart, bears have to travel more — often swimming — and that has serious consequences, such as more energy use, hypothermia and risk of death, said University of Alberta biology professor Andrew Derocher, who wasn’t part of the study.
The study found that on the ice, the polar bears burn up 60 percent more energy than previously thought, based on these first real-life measurements done on the ice. A few of the bears traveled more than 155 miles (250 kilometers) in about 10 days off the northern coast of Alaska in the Beaufort Sea, Pagano said. The average bear female burned about 13,200 calories a day — six times more than an active human female.
“Just to break even they have to capture at least one seal every five to 10 days — and that’s just to break even,” said study co-author George Durner, a USGS research zoologist. “And if they don’t do that they’re going to lose weight.”
The ice cover in the Arctic grows in the winter and melts in the summer. Because of climate change, the ice is shrinking and thinning more and earlier, he said.
As the ice dwindles, “we are essentially pulling the rug out from underneath the polar bears,” Durner said.
The bear videos showed researchers all sorts of usually private aspects of polar bear life, including courtship and hunting. They recorded dramatic, and at times, bloody seal hunts from the bear’s perspective.
“You’re seeing everything it is seeing,” Durner said.
Researchers only tracked female bears because males can’t keep collars on — their heads are too small and their necks too big — Pagano said.
Blaine Griffen, a Brigham Young University biology professor who wasn’t part of the study, praised the USGS work, noting that past studies have looked at resting polar bears and polar bears on treadmills in the lab.
In the long run, climate change “will result in smaller bears that produce fewer cubs and that have lower survival rates,” Griffen said in an email.
All over the Arctic, scientists have seen evidence of weakened polar bears, Pagano said. Last month, a video of a starving polar bear went viral, but it is from a different part of the Arctic and unlikely to be related to global warming, Durner said.
“If it’s bad for polar bears, it might be affecting us in other ways — us being humans,” Durner said. “It’s part of a larger picture.”


Heat and humidity grip East Coast as Midwest gets reprieve

A child plays in a waterfall at Yards Park in Washington, DC, July 19, 2019, as an extreme heat wave hits the region. (AFP)
Updated 57 min 40 sec ago
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Heat and humidity grip East Coast as Midwest gets reprieve

  • Utility companies DTE Energy and Consumers Energy said roughly 500,000 customers are still without power after thousands of power lines were downed in a storm that was worst to hit the region

BOSTON: The East Coast on Sunday sweated through another day of extreme heat and humidity as organizers in Boston canceled a benefit run, Delaware Civil War re-enactors got the day off and the New York Police Department implored residents to take it easy.
“Sunday has been canceled,” the NYPD jokingly tweeted . “Stay indoors, nothing to see here. Really, we got this.”
The central part of the country, meanwhile, enjoyed some relief as a cold front moved steadily southward and eastward across the country, bringing down the temperatures. But the cooler weather settling in Monday and Tuesday is also bringing severe storms packed with powerful winds and heavy rains that have already caused damage in the Midwest. The National Weather Service warns flash flooding might be possible in some areas.
From the Carolinas to Maine, daytime highs reached the upper 90s Sunday. Coupled with high humidity, temperatures felt as hot as 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) in places.
“There’s no point being out,” Washington, D.C., bus driver Ramieka Darby remarked while taking a quick break amid temperatures of nearly 100 degrees (37.8 Celsius).
Nearby, Jack Ogten was among a steady stream of tourists milling around outside the White House. Undeterred by the stifling heat, the resident of the Netherlands joked he’d lost about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) from sweating after just one day of sightseeing.
In New York City, where all eyes were on the power grid even before the hot weather following a Manhattan blackout last weekend, electricity company Con Ed reported roughly 46,000 customers were without power as of 9 p.m. Sunday because of scattered outages, the vast majority in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens.
Con Ed said it reduced voltage by 8% in those areas to maintain service as repairs are made and asked those customers to turn off non-essential appliances to conserve power.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that the “accumulated heat and strain from the past few days has built up in the electrical equipment.”
The city also directed office buildings to set thermostats no lower than 78 degrees (26 degrees Celsius) through Sunday to reduce strain on its electrical grid. A day earlier, a commemoration of the 1969 moon landing planned for Times Square and an outdoor festival featuring soccer star Megan Rapinoe and musician John Legend were nixed due to the heat.
In Boston, Sunday’s heat prompted cancelation of the annual Jimmy Fund 5K cancer benefit race as well as a popular Sunday market in the city’s South End. City officials also once again opened up city pools free to residents as the temperature topped 90 degrees (32 degrees Celsius) for the third consecutive day.
And police in one Boston suburb posted a tongue-in-cheek request on their Facebook page. “Due to the extreme heat, we are asking anyone thinking of doing criminal activity to hold off until Monday,” Braintree police wrote Friday. “Conducting criminal activity, in this extreme heat is next level henchmen status, and also very dangerous.”
In Pennsylvania, nine firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion and six transported to a hospital for treatment while fighting a house fire in sweltering conditions Saturday. Several hundred people were also evacuated from a retirement community Saturday because of a power outage that may have been heat-related.
In New Hampshire, rescue crews helped a 29-year-old hiker late Saturday after he was overcome by the heat in the White Mountain National Forest.
In New Jersey, the Oceanic Bridge over the Navesink River was closed Saturday evening after it got stuck open. Monmouth County officials say heat caused expansion of the metal encasing the drawbridge, which is a popular route for residents and beachgoers.
The heat even prompted Delaware officials to close Fort Delaware State Park, which served as a Union prison camp during the Civil War. Temperatures were simply too high for costumed interpreters who wear wool garb to work safely this weekend, officials said.
The National Weather Service reported high temperatures for July 20 were recorded Saturday at its weather stations in Atlantic City, New Jersey, New York City, Westfield, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Wallops Island, Virginia.
The heat relented early Sunday in the northern reaches of New England.
A Canadian cold front brought thunderstorms Saturday evening that dropped temperatures across northern Vermont and upstate New York. A heat advisory remained in effect for southern sections of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine for much of the day, however.
And in many parts of the country, it’s not expected to get much better when the sun goes down: temperatures are expected to remain at or above the high 70s overnight (26 degrees Celsius).
Meanwhile, parts of the Midwest are dealing with the effects of damaging winds and rain that swooped in with the cold front that’s breaking up the heat wave.
In Milwaukee, utility crews restored power to more than 48,000 customers in the eastern part of the state. But around 56,000 customers were still without power Sunday after more than 700 wires, 50 power poles and over 600 trees or branches were taken down in thunderstorms, officials said.
In Michigan, power might not be restored for everyone until Tuesday.
Utility companies DTE Energy and Consumers Energy said roughly 500,000 customers are still without power after thousands of power lines were downed in a storm that was worst to hit the region since 2017.