Above the Arctic Circle, in the Svalbard archipelago, is the city of Longyearbyen. The Kingdom of the polar bears, this small Norwegian metropolis is a wild and protected nature reserve of the North. People who live there have to endure tough climatic conditions. For some, it is the starting point for true adventure.
The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) focuses on arctic research in biology, geology, geophysics and technology, and is visited by students and researches from all around the world.
The climate has changed
Climatic conditions in the Arctic are constantly deteriorating, as temperatures rise year after year. Glaciers in the Arctic Sea are melting much faster than scientists had previously expected. This trend is predicted to continue.
This is not a good news for the majestic polar bear. The question remains how much this problem will affect their population, whose numbers are constantly falling due to the faster and greater melting of glaciers.
A significant stimulus for economic growth in Svalbard has been tourism. Svalbard has become more attractive to tourists and researchers, with visiting numbers rising each year. It is a gateway to beautiful untouched nature, where tourists can experience adventures such as a cruise expedition, or riding on dog sledges.
One of the greatest attractions of Svalbard is the closeness of the polar bears. This is often considered by tourists as the main pull to the icy wilderness.
Tourists are generally not expected to be experts when it comes to contact with polar bears. Although brief training is provided, and tourists are accompanied by experienced guides, there is still great danger in the case of an unexpected encounter with a polar bear.
Trying to survive
Polar bears need sea ice in order to catch seals. The seals also rely on the sea ice, in order to give birth to and raise their pups. The levels of sea ice have decreased at such a rate that polar bears must travel longer distances to find a food to survive. This need for the bears to be on the move increases the chance of contact between polar bears and humans, putting both in danger.
An important question is whether the number of tourists should be limited in some way. However, such restrictions could have a negative effect on the economy of Svalbard.
Decreasing numbers of polar bears
The population of polar bears has a very uncertain future. Thanks to human activities, our planet is warming up. This results in more rapid melting of glaciers. If we want to keep the polar bear population, we have to change our behaviour and action on climate change quickly. Only that is the right way to ensure the survival of Arctic animal species, not only in the Arctic but also around the whole world.
A study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicts that the Arctic could see its first ice-free Summer as soon as the year 2030. Scientists predict that without action on climate change, two-thirds of the polar bear population could be gone by 2050. The projection is that the King of the Arctic could be extinct by 2100.
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