University of Iceland

Found the world's oldest polar bear

Found the world's oldest polar bear

The BBC Science & Nature website reported on the achievements of Ólafur Ingólfsson, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland. Ólafur's research mission on the Svalbard islands uncovered a fossilised jawbone from a polar bear, considered to be the oldest polar bear fossil ever found. The jawbone is roughly 23 cm long and very well preserved.

Until now scientists have considered polar bears a special species, emerging around 70 thousand years ago, but the jawbone, which is probably from a full-grown female polar bear, is in all likelihood 110 to 130 thousand years old. Today polar bears are listed as a northern endangered species and many believe that global warming and the shrinking of Arctic ice will have serious consequences for the polar bears.

In a BBC interview Ólafur says that the polar bear originally evolved from the brown bear, which ventured out to the polar icecap and specialised in hunting for food, due to a cooling climate during the ice age. Ólafur and his colleagues believe that polar bears have inhabited the poles for at least 200 thousand years.

If this theory is correct the polar bear has survived massive environmental changes and periods when the earth was considerably warmer than it is today, with less ice in the polar regions. There may therefore be no reason for serious concerns for the future of polar bears, despite global warming and the potential reduction in the size of the northern polar icecap during the summer. As long as there are seals and sea ice in the winter, there will be polar bears. Today the polar bears' primary threat is from increasing pollution.

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