A NASA-funded study reported on June 16th, 2022, in the journal Science that “Greenland’s fjords harbor a unique group of polar bears that rely on glacial ice.”
Polar bears throughout the Arctic depend on sea ice as a place for hunting seals. As climate change heats the planet and Arctic sea ice melts away, polar bears strive to discover ice to hunt on. However, in Southeast Greenland, scientists found out that bears survive for most of the year in fjords by depending on ice melanges, a combination of sea ice and pieces of glacial ice that is shaved off of marine-terminating glaciers. This community of polar bears has been separated for several hundred years from their Arctic counterparts, and they have been known to be genetically distinct.
The findings indicated that the Southeast Greenland bears are cut off from sea ice two-thirds of the year. They enhance their hunting by utilizing freshwater ice slabs, which periodically break off the Greenland Ice Sheet and coastal glaciers. The bears also trek between fjords by bridging inland ice and trekking over mountains.
“We knew there were some bears in the area from historical records and Indigenous knowledge,” announced co-author Kristin Laidre, a polar scientist at the University of Washington. “We just didn’t know how special they were,” she added.