Hungry polar bears are scuppering expedition to Spitsbergen


A Dutch polar expedition to Spitsbergen to study the effects of climate change is being scuppered by the presence of hungry polar bears, broadcaster NOS reports.

The polar bears have been trapped inland because of the rapidly melting ice, itself an effect of climate change, and form a danger to the 50 strong team of scientists and the 50 tourists who are also making the trip.

Apart from the polar bears, high winds and mist have been making it difficult to land and the crew has also been hit by a Coronavirus outbreak.

On Saturday investigators had to cut their fieldwork short because a polar bear had been spotted. According to expedition rules, the scientists cannot work if polar bears are near.  So far, the scientists have only been able to land three times.

There are more polar bears than expected, expedition leader Jan Belgers told the broadcaster. ‘They have missed the bus, so to speak. When the sea ice retreats the bears prefer to stay on the ice but the rapid melting process caught them out.’

That is bad news for the mothers and cubs, who would normally live on seal meat but who will now have to find other sources of food, including goose eggs, reindeer and even grass, Belgers said.

Seven years

The final destination of the expedition is the island of Edgeøya, where rapid climate change is having an effect on flora and fauna.

This year’s voyage is a follow up of a 2015 expedition to the area. The investigators are hoping to record what has changed in the last seven years.

The expedition will last until July 22.

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