Polar Bears and Climate Change

Did you know that polar bears are at high risk of population decline and future extinction in our warming world? Dr. Steven Amstrup, a Research Wildlife Biologist with the United States Geological Survey, discussed the status of the iconic marine mammal in the lecture, “Polar Bear: Climate Change Sentinel.” The lecture was part of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Conservation Lecture Series. Dr. Amstrup works at the Alaska Science Center in Anchorage and has conducted research on polar bears for the past 28 years. He was part of the research group that prepared reports used in the listing of the polar bear as a threatened species.

Polar bears are the apex predator of the Arctic. They are closely tied to the sea ice, depending on it for mate selection, breeding, caring for young, and most importantly, hunting ringed and bearded seals. Pregnant females come on land in the fall and den for the entire winter to give birth and care for their cubs. The other bears continue to hunt on the sea-ice year round.

Studies have shown that polar bears prefer medium to thick sea ice over the shallower waters of the continental shelf. However, as Arctic sea ice has retreated in past years, bears are forced to travel out further (and over much deeper and less productive water) to hunt from the ice edge. In the West Hudson Bay area, females are coming ashore up to three weeks earlier and thus losing valuable time to feed before denning. In both cases this leads to decreased weight and a decreased survival rate of cubs and older individuals. Years of sea ice decline correlate with population decline in the Hudson Bay and Beaufort Sea areas, trends which are most likely consistent with other polar bear populations around the world.

Based on this data, researchers projected that as a result of global warming and sea ice decline, polar bear populations have a very high risk of extinction within the next century. One particular population in the Canadian archipelago may be able to survive through the end of the century, as the ice there is still thick and covering shallow water. Ice thinning in that area may open up increased hunting opportunities and support a larger population. However, if warming trends persist, this population will also eventually be at risk.

When asked how individuals could help polar bears, Amstrup spoke of immediate changes to reduce our carbon footprint. While large scale action by governments and corporations is certainly necessary, it is worthwhile to remember that changing our individual habits (and encouraging others to do the same) can make a difference.

A study of polar bears and their response to climate change aligns with the Life Science and the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives content standards of the National Science Education Standards.

The entire National Science Education Standards document can be read online or downloaded for free from the National Academies Press web site. Find science content standards in Chapter 6.

Resources

Polar Bears International
PBI is nonprofit organization dedicated to the worldwide conservation of the polar bear. Find background information and information about the bear’s listing as a threatened species.

 The Polar Bear Tracker
Follow the movements of polar bears throughout the Arctic. Use the real-time data to explore how global warming is affecting the bears.

Tracking Polar Bears
In this interactive activity adapted from the USGS Alaska Science Center, investigate the migration patterns of polar bears.

Polar Bears Change Diet
This radio broadcast from 2001 explains how polar bears have adjusted their diet due to the climate warming around Hudson Bay, Canada. The ringed seals that polar bears normally eat have been harder for polar bears to get to, due to disappearing ice. This has forced polar bears to begin eating harbor seals and bearded seals. The clip is 4 minutes and 15 seconds in length.

Polar Bears and Climate Change
This video from the World Wildlife Fund addresses the primary threat to polar bears in the Arctic today: global warming. Scientists monitor the effects of climate change on the large predator’s activities and range, study the bears’ physical condition, and explore why the melting of glaciers and reduction of sea ice in the Arctic region may ultimately have dire consequences for the polar bears.

Bearly Any Ice
This game is similar to tag that simulates the prey and predator relationship between polar bears and ringed seals. It demonstrates the drastic impact of global warming by linking the amount of sea ice and length of season of sea ice to the survival of the polar bear.

Science and the Polar Regions
Background information, lessons, resources, and standards alignment for a study of the polar regions.


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publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post
updated 12/07/2011.

World Ocean Day

The Ocean Project, a network of aquariums, science museums, and conservation organizations, has designated June 8 as World Ocean Day. The network’s web site offers resources for these institutions to use in making the public aware of the significance of the ocean. In the resources below, you’ll find background information and lesson plans to help your students understand the importance of the ocean.

Ocean Explorer
This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site provides standards-based lesson plans, multimedia presentations and learning activities, descriptions of careers, professional development resources, the history of ocean exploration, and much more.

NOVA Online: Into the Abyss
This site chronicles the ambitious expedition that occurred in June and July 1998 a mile and a half beneath the sea off the Pacific Northwest coast where scientists attempted to retrieve several black smoker chimneys from the seafloor. These chimneys are home to bizarre life forms that thrive far beyond the reach of the sun’s light.

International Year of the Ocean
Created for the 1998 Year of the Ocean, this site has a wealth of features in the Kids’ and Teachers’ Corner. Included are an educator’s guide, fact sheets, unit plans, and poster.

Visit to an Ocean Planet – Classroom Activities
More than 40 classroom activities from this web version of the Visit to an Ocean Planet CD-ROM are grouped under climate, oceanography, and life in our oceans. Each activity is correlated to the national standards. Among the topics are properties of fresh water and sea water, deep ocean circulations, wind-driven currents and bioluminescence.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

Science-Themed Days and Weeks

Days and weeks designated to recognize advances or current issues in science are often accompanied by web sites that can be useful to teachers and students year-round.

Sun-Earth Day – on or near the Spring Equinox
NASA maintains this site with lesson plans, space weather centers, stunning images, an online book about observers of the skies from stargazers to spacecraft, and many other features.

Solar Week – on or near the Spring EquinoxNSDL Annotation
By clicking on a day of the week, teachers will find background information and activities related to a specific sun topic. The Sun-Earth Media Viewer gives real-time images.

Earth Day – April 22NSDL Annotation
The Wilderness Society gives the history of Earth Day and lesson plans for grades 4-6. Other features are fact sheets on migratory birds and a slideshow of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

National Environmental Education Week – April 15-22NSDL Annotation
Environmental educators have developed a full week of K-12 preparation for Earth Day. Reducing energy use is the focus.

Lockheed Martin Space Day – May 6
Space-related activities are designed to interest young people in careers in science, math, engineering, and technology. Five lesson plans are tied to national standards.

World Ocean Day – June 8
Along with materials focused on World Ocean Day observances, the official site lists “cool links” to recordings of whale sounds, ecologically sound seafood choices, and conservation tips.

Earth Science Week – October 14-20NSDL Annotation
With the theme “The Pulse of Earth Science,” the American Geological Institute is taking stock of earth science education nationwide. Teachers will find a number of classroom activities.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School PortalNSDL Annotation publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.

Wetlands

At one time wetlands were known only for being the mosquito-breeding grounds they can be. Thus, management practices included eliminating the wetland altogether. It is now known that wetlands have at least three useful functions for human inhabitants: pollutant filter, flood mitigator, and site of exceptional biodiversity compared to adjacent dry land areas. How can educators convey these important concepts to students? Here are some web sites to supplement your content knowledge and to complement your lesson repertoire for educating students about wetland and estuary value and conservation practices.

USGS National Wetlands Research CenterNSDL Annotation
This home page contains links to publications, maps and data, and a section titled “About Wetlands” and enhanced with photographs. Among the Hot Topics listed is a link to information about the changing wetlands of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Estuaries.gov
Explore this web site to learn more about estuaries, how to protect them, and the EstuaryLive interactive field trips. Visit this site often for updates on EstuaryLive broadcasts and ways that you can participate.

Environmental Concern
This nicely organized page contains several links of interest in its left navigation bar, including Educator Training, Schoolyard Habitats, and Wetland 101 Online.

Ducks Unlimited Canada
Three wetland and environmental education units with lesson plans, called the Wetland Ecosystems series, are found at this site. The units were developed by teachers to meet Canadian curriculum requirements in the life sciences.

Wildlife at the Olentangy River Wetland Research Park
Here you can find photos of wildlife typical of most Midwestern and Northeastern wetlands in the United States. This is part of a more comprehensive site devoted to wetland research.

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We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School PortalNSDL Annotation publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.

Animals on the Move

Most kids are familiar with the migration patterns of monarch butterflies and Canada geese, but do they know that many more animals are seasonal movers too? The National Science Education Standards point out that middle school students are capable of broadening their understanding of how many different species interact, compete, and coexist in the same environment.

Enjoy and share these resources with your students while they learn the reasons behind seasonal migration.

Space for Species NSDL Annotation
This interactive web site invites young people to investigate the contributions that satellite and remote sensing instruments make to wildlife conservation. Students can download their own journal to track real-time movements of migratory animals such as polar bears and leatherback sea turtles, monitor climate and habitat conditions, and evaluate threats to animals along migration routes.

Operation MigrationNSDL Annotation
Operation Migration is part of a consortium created to save the endangered whooping crane from extinction in the wild. Visitors to this site can read field journals and follow along as a team teaches a flock how to migrate. The site includes lots of photos and video clips from the migration. Work with flocks of sandhill cranes and Canada geese is also reported.

Marathon MigratorsNSDL Annotation
A video segment from NOVA’s “The Mystery of Animal Pathfinders” explores how the migratory patterns of shorebirds have evolved over time. Birds that time their travels well are rewarded with breeding success, while birds that leave too early or too late pay the price with unsuccessful reproduction.

Journey North: A Global Study of Wildlife MigrationNSDL Annotation
Although the focus of this project is spring migration, students track the journeys of a dozen migratory species and share their field observations throughout the year. Students also note changes in daylight, temperatures, and the food chain. The site provides a discussion forum, teaching tips, a sightings database, and lesson plans related to migration.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School PortalNSDL Annotation publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.