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"Bear Chance" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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The Discovery Files podcast is available through iTunes or you can add the RSS feed to your podcast receiver. You can also access the series via AudioNow® by calling 405-875-0058 on any telephone.

Scientists from several institutions, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington, have found that if humans reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly in the next decade or two, enough Arctic ice is likely to remain intact during late summer and early autumn for polar bears to survive.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

(Sound effect: Arctic wind) Great White Hope.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

When you think of polar bears, do you think (Sound effect: bear cooing) of those cuddly-sweet soda-swilling ones on ads around the holidays? Or maybe (Sound effect: water, wind, arctic) stark images of a species barely hanging on with their icy habitat disappearing in a warming climate. Polar bears were added to the threatened species list in 2008.

The bears depend on sea ice to hunt seals. Without that ice, they can lose about two pounds a day. And that sea ice is vanishing. Projections show vast areas could be lost within a decade, and far more after that.

But those projections are based on greenhouse gas emissions continuing as usual. Now a new study by scientists at several institutions asks: What would happen if the greenhouse gas emissions are reduced?

The researchers' computer models show there is no 'tipping point' -- no unstoppable loss of summer sea ice when warming reaches a certain threshold. They say their findings offer a hopeful message: If humans cut greenhouse gas emissions significantly in the next decade or two, enough arctic ice is likely to remain intact during late summer and early autumn for polar bears to survive.

So it seems polar bears may not be doomed at all -- if humans "polarize" to help.

"The Discovery Files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

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