Global Warming

Polar Bear Invasion

Thinning sea ice has driven more than 50 polar bears ashore on an Arctic archipelago in northern Russia, causing chaos for the local population. Fences have risen around kindergartens. Special vehicles transport military personnel to their work sites. Residents of the island settlement are afraid to leave their homes.

Novaya Zemlya is a Russian archipelago stretching into the Arctic Ocean. It once played host to Soviet nuclear tests, including the largest-ever man-made explosion, when the so-called King of Bombs detonated in 1961, releasing 50 megatons of power and deepening an arms race that threatened to turn the Cold War hot.

Today, the barren landscape is under siege — from dozens of polar bears locked in their very own sort of hot war. Marine ecologists have long been sounding the alarm about the peril posed by global warming for the vulnerable species. In the far reaches of Russia, the situation has suddenly become traumatic for humans, too.

But as arctic ice thins, which is linked to the acceleration of climate change, the animals move ashore, ravenous. They scavenge, sometimes coming into contact with human populations.

At least 52 bears were massed near Belushya Guba, the main settlement on the island territory, which is still used as a military garrison, with restricted access to the public. The town had a population of about 2,000 as of the 2010 Census.

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