WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The permanent Arctic sea ice that is home to the world's polar bears and usually survives the summer has all but disappeared, a Canadian researcher said Friday.
University of Manitoba Arctic researcher David Barber said experts around the world believed the ice was recovering because satellite images showed it expanding, but the thick, multiyear frozen sheets have been replaced by thin ice that cannot support the weight of a polar bear.
"Polar bears are being restricted to a small fringe of where this multiyear sea ice is. As we went farther and farther north, we saw less and less polar bears because this ice wasn't even strong enough for the polar bears to stand on," said Barber, who just returned from an expedition to the Beaufort Sea.
The deterioration has far-reaching consequences for the North and its iconic mammal. Polar bears that rely on the permanent ice to survive the summer have fewer and fewer places of refuge, Barber said.
Barber said permanent ice, which is normally up to 30 feet thick, was easily pierced by the research ship.
The team finally reached what it thought was stable ice, only to watch a crack appear just as researchers were preparing to descend onto the floe.
"As I watched, over the course of five minutes, the entire multiyear ice floe broke up into pieces. This floe was 10 miles across," said Barber, who holds the Canada research chair in Arctic science at the University of Manitoba.