Using 360-degree cameras to document the landscape and polar bears of Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, teams at Google Maps, Earth Outreach, and Polar Bears International have made it possible for us to explore life on the tundra. This is behind the scenes of the Polar Bear Capital of the World:
This quiet town, set on the shores of western Hudson Bay, is a place where polar bears and humans coexist until the sea ice forms and the polar bears can travel on to the bay to hunt seals, their main prey.
During the warmer months, the polar bears are forced ashore by melting ice. While climate change may seem like a gradual process, often difficult to discern, the impact is real and evident in the polar bear capital. In Churchill, climate change has shortened the time that the bay remains frozen, reducing the polar bears’ hunting season by approximately four weeks…
In addition to this documentation, the team aims to educate about the polar bears’ quickly-changing habitat, and to inspire our reduction of carbon emissions, the largest man-made contributor to warming the planet.
To learn more, check out these ways to reduce your carbon footprint. And then search for polar bears in Churchill.
In the archives: watch more polar bear stories, more conservation, and another video about how technology helps us understand our changing world: the Catlin Seaview Survey of the Great Barrier Reef.
What did Mars look like 4 billion years ago? The team at NASA’s Conceptual Image Lab have an idea based on the existing evidence:
Billions of years ago when the Red Planet was young, it appears to have had a thick atmosphere that was warm enough to support oceans of liquid water - a critical ingredient for life. The animation shows how the surface of Mars might have appeared during this ancient clement period, beginning with a flyover of a Martian lake. The artist’s concept is based on evidence that Mars was once very different. Rapidly moving clouds suggest the passage of time, and the shift from a warm and wet to a cold and dry climate is shown as the animation progresses. The lakes dry up, while the atmosphere gradually transitions from Earthlike blue skies to the dusty pink and tan hues seen on Mars today.
The animation was released in anticipation of November 18th’s Cape Canaveral launch of MAVEN, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission. MAVEN will explore the planet’s lost atmosphere.
Previously: flying over a topographically accurate landscapes of Mars, and more NASA.
In Onward: Searching for Life in Iceland’s Frigid Fissures, National Geographic grantee and biology researcher Jónína Ólafsdóttir goes diving in search of tiny arthropods in the underwater volcanic fissures of Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park. She is joined by NatGeo multimedia journalists Spencer Millsap and Dan Stone.
“When I started doing this research, I was amazed that no one had ever done it before,” she said one morning earlier this week as we drove to her favorite dive site. Iceland has a lot of research questions related to biology and geology that have never been answered, let alone even asked. “Iceland is a really great place for a scientist with an explorer’s heart,” she says…
Ecologists are often asked why they might study one particular animal, especially a small one that has little impact on humans. Jónína’s answer goes like this: humanity might never be dependent on microscopic arthropods but understanding how animals work together, how they depend on each other holds lots more clues about an area’s environmental history—and its future. At the top of the world, seeing how species change and adapt may indicate what happens as the climate changes around the world.
Read more about Ólafsdóttir's research at National Geographic, and check out more scuba diving videos in the archives.
Polar Bears Eat Goose Eggs in the Arctic’s summer months, but now scientists are studying how melting sea ice might affect the bears’ eating habits in the years to come. Will more eggs be on their menu? Utah State University Ph.D candidate David Iles narrates this remote camera footage from Western Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba, as we watch polar bears find these high-calorie snacks (and a few of the birds that laid them):
“In terms of snow geese there’s 50,000 pairs out there, and that could be quite a substantial benefit to polar bears that do happen to take advantage of them,” he continued. “But what we don’t yet know is how often that overlap happens, what types of bears are taking advantage, and what it could mean for both polar bears and waterfowl.”
There are more details about the balance of these animals and the changing ecosystem that they share in this corresponding National Geographic article.
Related bears-on-hidden-camera fun: What goes on when you are not there.
What is beneath the world’s largest ice sheet? Compiled by the British Antarctic Survey and made from “millions of new measurements, including substantial data sets from NASA’s ICESat satellite and an airborne mission called Operation IceBridge,” this animated map of the changing Antarctic Ice Sheet reveals the bedrock terrain below with a level of detail never seen before.
Read more about decades of data: Peeling Back the Ice of Antarctica by Wired’s Adam Mann.