On Nature: Ice Doesn’t Lie

On Nature: David Voigts

Sea ice is rapidly declining in extent and thickness, especially in the shallow coastal waters of the Arctic Ocean. The ice is telling us that the arctic is warming rapidly, caused almost certainly by the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. As a result, the southern Beaufort Sea, which is characterized by a shallow continental shelf off Alaska’s north coast, is now ice free for two to three months each summer. According to a recent report in “The Wildlife Professional,” this has impacted polar bears that use coastal ice for hunting and other activities.

One way that polar bears have reacted to the amount of open water is to relocate to areas with more stable ice, but with suboptimal habitat. Other bears make the decision to head for land, sometimes swimming 30 miles or more. These bears are usually exhausted and lethargic after arriving on shore. Moreover, polar bears don’t use the land just in summer. Thinning sea ice is less stable for winter maternity dens, and most dens are now on land, where conditions are not ideal.

Sea ice doesn’t lie. Its loss is telling us that we must limit greenhouse gas emissions to save polar bears and us.

David Voigts is a retired ecologist and the current Conservation Chair for the Prairie Rapids Audubon Society. He is a Tama County native, graduating from Dinsdale High School, and lives in rural Jesup on his wife’s family farm.