Emergency in the Arctic: This is behind the polar bear alert by Novaya Zemlya
A Russian archipelago is visited by polar bears. Even the state of emergency was declared. In addition to climate change, there is another guess for the strange behavior of the animals.
Little time? At the end of the text there is a summary.
How disrespectful the largest land predator on earth is, visitors to Spitsbergen can already experience this at the airport of the Norwegian archipelago. On the luggage belt is a stuffed polar bear. And those who only meet him here can actually be very happy. Rarely, but again and again it comes to deadly encounters between humans and animals. As in the summer of 2011, when 17-year-old Briton Horatio Chapple died, an obviously emaciated bear attacked the poorly secured camp of his student group on the Von Post glacier.
This winter, as one can learn at the Gouverneuer of Spitsbergen, there has not been a bear that has been dangerously close to human settlements. The situation is completely different at the Russian island group Novaya Zemlya, which is located about 1000 kilometers to the east. There, the authorities announce an "invasion" of aggressive polar bears.
Since last December, 52 animals have appeared regularly in Beluschja Guba, the main settlement of the archipelago. Some of the bears even attacked people. So far, the authorities have not allowed shooting, the polar bear is also protected in Russia. As a last resort, the option is left open, explained the responsible persons.
What is driving the polar bears of Novaya Zemlya, who form a common population 2500 to 3000 strong with Spitsbergen? One possible reason for the mass occurrence is the accelerated melting of ice in the Arctic as a result of climate change. Thus, it is believed that the animals spend more time on land and compete there for food.
Hibernates only hold females with their young. For a little older young bear and especially the males, however, is now the time in which they have to eat their fat. They prefer to do this by hunting seals - and they live on the ice.
Overview pages such as meereisportal.de show for the west coast of Novaya Zemlya, where Beluschya Guba is located, currently a small extent of the Arctic sea ice.
University of Bremen / meereisportal.de
At least during the years 1981 to 2010, however, the region was ice-covered, despite the warm ocean currents reaching to this point, a look at the data of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the USA shows. This actually suggests that bears, who would normally hunt seals on the ice, instead come to the island to look for food.
That is certainly not true. "Especially in this region, the ice is changing very much, but just here we also lack the data on the animals," complains the polar bear expert Sybille Klenzendorf of the environmental organization WWF. On the one hand, this has to do with the fact that Novaya Zemlya is a restricted military area, and the Soviet Union has carried out about 130 atomic bomb tests since the mid-1950s. And on the other hand, Russia - to the annoyance of many researchers - did not participate in the last Arctic Polar Bearing Survey of 2015.
Indicators from Alaska
So no one knows exactly how many bears there are around the archipelago - neither is it clear that the animals may change their behavior due to climate change. So you have to look for answers to other places in the Arctic. And from Alaska, there is a study from 2015, according to which at least female polar bears in the area of the Chukchi Sea now spend much more time on land than before.
A team led by Karyn Rode, from the US Geological Survey, had been able to show that females averaged less than 30 days per year on ice between 2008 and 2013 during the comparative period from 1986 to 1995. The group also found evidence of that indeed the change of ice cover was to blame. Male animals were not included in the study because they were able to strip the transmitter's collars repeatedly.
Polar Bears in Alaska (Stock Image)
Less ice cream equals more time ashore - if there is such a connection also for the bears of Novaya Zemlya, it is not so easy to say - but probably that the animals have another reason besides the dwindling plaice to come ashore : Human waste dumps make finding food easier there. "The dumps are a huge problem," says WWF employee Klenzendorf. "That's how the animals are attracted, it smells good there, it's interesting."
"To have the same experiences everywhere with the same behavior"
So the animals got used to the proximity of the people, conversely, it happens as well, says Klenzendorf. Then go a bit crooked, a bear becomes a problem bear, but then the excitement is great. The Russians certainly have management plans for dealing with problematic animals. Nobody knows how they would be implemented. You need specially trained personnel to bother such bears - and you need a systematic approach: "The animals must do the same experience everywhere the same experience." No matter if in Norway or Russia - it should be uncomfortable near people.
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How attractively garbage works for the bears is also shown in British newspaper reports from January. It read - and to see - as a curious polar bear climbs a surfaced Russian nuclear submarine. This had been on patrol near the Norwegian islands of Spitzbergen and Jan Mayen. The crew had thrown several bags of waste after reaching the water surface, it was said.
Although the waste for the behavior of animals spiel, that must not hide the fact that the Arctic warms in climate change much faster than the vast majority of the earth. And that puts the ecosystems under high pressure to change. The winters in Spitsbergen are now two months shorter than 50 years ago. This is in a recently published report by the Norwegian Center for Climate Services.
The Russian Novaya Zemlya is by nature not part of the reporting area. However, fundamentally different developments should not take place there. If you look at Spitsbergen, you can see the extent of the change: The average annual average temperatures have risen by 4 degrees within half a century, considering the winters are even 7.3 degrees. And a further increase - depending on which emission scenario is used - up to ten degrees in the annual mean is to be feared.
For the polar bears, that can not be good news. But also not for the people of the Arctic, so increases the avalanche risk on Spitsbergen according to the climate report. And avalanches, you have to know, are already more deadly on the island than polar bears. Only that does not expose anyone at the airport.
In summary: There are several explanations for the strengthened polar bear sightings on the Russian island group Novaya Zemlya. Climate change - perhaps in the form of less ice cover - is likely to play a role. Part of the blame is on wild garbage dumps, which make it easier for bears to search for food. Exact information is difficult for researchers to get because Novaya Zemlya is a restricted military area.