Previously known populations of polar bears largely rely on sea ice to hunt seals. However, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic has continued to decrease in recent decades due to climate change. The discovery of the new population could give hope, the researchers write. The freshwater ice at the glaciers that flow into the sea could potentially serve as a “previously unknown climate refuge.”
However, they warn against too much hope. The study shows how some polar bears might survive climate change, Laidre said. “But I don’t think the glacier habitat will support large numbers of polar bears. There just aren’t enough of them. We continue to expect polar bear numbers in the Arctic to decline sharply with climate change.”
The researchers write that the population that has now been discovered also uses sea ice that freezes directly on the coast for hunting. However, this is only available in the area four months a year, until the end of May.
It is the most genetically isolated polar bear population on earth, said co-author Beth Shapiro of the University of California. “We know that this population has been separate from other polar bear populations for at least several hundred years.”