Canada experienced its warmest year ever in 2010, and average temperatures have risen by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 degrees Celsius) since 1948. In Nunavut and Northern Quebec, permafrost and ice sheets are melting [source: Curran]. With fewer ice masses in the Arctic due to rising temperatures, polar bears face two major threats to their way of life: the increasing inability to obtain prey and more distance between ice and landmasses.
Polar bears move to land when the ice shrinks in warmer seasons. They do not hunt on land, however, and their bodies live off their stored fat to survive. As the temperature drops and more ice forms, they start hunting again. Because of the growing distances between land and ice sheets, however, they are finding it more difficult to have the energy required to reach the other side. They stay on land without food or risk freezing or drowning. Also, their prey (seals) are faster swimmers. The bears can hunt them better on the ice, of which there is less and less. And less food equals less insulation on the bears' bodies.
The Inuit people, known to some as Eskimos, and living in Alaska, Greenland, Canada and Russia, rely heavily on polar bear populations for survival and for their traditional way of life. The damage that global warming is doing to polar bear populations, therefore, is damaging the Inuit people.
The Inuit are running out of bears to hunt, which means less food and skins from the bears. And when the Inuits go out on hunts, they are exposed to new dangers such as soft and melting ice. Warmer weather reduces the number of hunting days and makes the igloos hunters use instead of tents harder to build. And shifting winds have altered ice formations that generations of Inuit hunters have used for navigation [source: Bowermaster].
A decline in polar bear populations also could affect the Inuits' incomes. One Canadian Inuit community, for example, has received more than $1.5 million in fees from tourists who buy restricted polar-bear-hunting licenses.
Polar bears are dying as Arctic ice melts. (Rory Gordon/Michael Ramage/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
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