Exit, pur­sued by bear

Popular Science - - TALES FIELD -

LAURA LEVY, POSTDOCTORAL RE­SEARCHER IN GEOSCIENCE, AARHUS UNIVER­SITY, DEN­MARK

The Green­land ice sheet is shrink­ing faster than an­tic­i­pated. But it’s not like it’s never changed be­fore. I study how the sheet re­sponded to pre­vi­ous cli­mate shifts so I can com­pare that growth and shrink­age with what we see to­day. That means giv­ing up my warm Dan­ish springs to travel to Green­land.

When my team trav­els to the far north to take sed­i­ment core sam­ples from lakes, it’s so cold that our in­stant meals some­times freeze solid in min­utes. Cli­mate change is short­en­ing that cold sea­son, which means less sea ice. Be­cause po­lar bears use sea ice to hunt prey, warm tem­per­a­tures leave them hun­gry—and dan­ger­ous.

About three years ago, as we worked from a sail­boat in the fjords, one of those hun­gry bears swam up and swiped a bar­rel of emer­gency sup­plies from a raft tied to our ship. He ate the choco­late bars inside and im­me­di­ately swam back for more.

At first see­ing a po­lar bear up close was ex­cit­ing. But we re­al­ized that if he re­ally wanted to get on­board, he could. That was less ex­cit­ing. We lit flares and scared him off. But he came back a few hours later—so we lit more flares. The next day he was sit­ting on shore watch­ing us, like a dog look­ing for scraps. That’s when we de­cided to move. You don’t want to be a bear’s fa­vorite lunch spot.

As told to Ken­dra Pierre-Louis / il­lus­tra­tions by Laura Breil­ing

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