Climate change is forcing polar bears to swim for days on end to solid ground

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Climate change threatens Svalbard's 3,000 polar bears

It can be hard to keep up with the destructive effects of climate change. Here's a refresher: Global warming is throwing the Earth off its axis, causing higher rates of disease and malnutrition, endangering food supply (including some of our favorites) and threatening to kill and/or displace millions of people and creatures around the world.

But if those facts alone don't scare you, University of Alberta biologist Andrew Derocher's newest research may do it.

According to his study, glacier melt is forcing polar bears into the water where they must swim for days at a time to find solid ground. And while polar bears are adept swimmers, they are not evolutionarily equipped to tackle such long distances.

See images of Nela and Nobby, polar bear cubs below:

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Nela and Nobby, polar bear cubs
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Climate change is forcing polar bears to swim for days on end to solid ground
Twin polar bear cubs Nela and Nobby play in their enclosure at the Hellabrunn zoo in Munich, southern Germany, Monday, April 7, 2014. The cubs were born on Dec. 9, 2013. Today they received their names. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Twin polar bear cubs Nela and Nobby play next to their mother Giovanna in their enclosure at the Hellabrunn zoo in Munich, southern Germany, Monday, April 7, 2014. The cubs were born on Dec. 9, 2013. On Monday they received their names. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Twin polar bear cubs Nela and Nobby play in their enclosure at the Hellabrunn zoo in Munich, southern Germany, Monday, April 7, 2014. The cubs were born on Dec. 9, 2013. Today they received their names. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
One of the polar bear twin cubs plays in their enclosure at Hellabrunn zoo in Munich, southern Germany, Monday, April 7, 2014. The cubs were born on Dec. 9, 2013. On Monday they received their names Nela and Nobby. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Twin polar bear cubs Nela and Nobby play in their enclosure at the Hellabrunn zoo in Munich, southern Germany, Monday, April 7, 2014. The cubs were born on Dec. 9, 2013. Today they received their names. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Twin polar bear cubs Nela and Nobby play in their enclosure at the Hellabrunn zoo in Munich, southern Germany, Monday, April 7, 2014. The cubs were born on Dec. 9, 2013. Today they received their names. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
One of the 16-weeks-old polar bear twins plays in his enclosure in the zoo in Munich Hellabrunn, southern Germany, on April 7 , 2014. The two little polar bear cups were born in the zoo of Munich on December 9, 2013 and were baptized Nobby and Nela on April 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
ALTERNATIVE CROP - One of the 16-weeks-old polar bear twins drinks from a water puddle in their enclosure in the zoo in Munich Hellabrunn, southern Germany, on April 7 , 2014. The two little polar bear cups were born in the zoo of Munich on December 9, 2013 and were baptized Nobby and Nela on April 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
The 16-weeks-old polar bear twins Nobby and Nola walk alongside their mother Giovanna in their enclosure in the zoo in Munich Hellabrunn, southern Germany, on April 7 , 2014. The two little polar bear cups were born in the zoo of Munich on December 9, 2013 and were baptized Nobby and Nela on April 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
The 16-weeks-old polar bear twins Nobby and Nola play in their enclosure in the zoo in Munich Hellabrunn, southern Germany, on April 7 , 2014. The two little polar bear cups were born in the zoo of Munich on December 9, 2013 and were baptized Nobby and Nela on April 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
The 16-weeks-old polar bear twins Nobby and Nola play in their enclosure in the zoo in Munich Hellabrunn, southern Germany, on April 7 , 2014. The two little polar bear cups were born in the zoo of Munich on December 9, 2013 and were baptized Nobby and Nela on April 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
Visitors watch the16-weeks-old polar bear twins Nobby and Nola cuddle with their mother Giovanna in their enclosure in the zoo in Munich Hellabrunn, southern Germany, on April 7 , 2014. The two little polar bear cups were born in the zoo of Munich on December 9, 2013 and were baptized Nobby and Nela on April 7, 2014. AFP PHOTO/CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Derocher and his team began tracking the swimming patterns of bears near Alaska and Canada in 2004. Twelve years later, the results are in: By 2012, the number of bears swimming more than 31 miles grew from 25% to 69%. With no ice to land on, one mother bear in particular had swum without stopping for nine days, losing 22% of her body weight and her cub along the way.

Read more: Climate Change Is Bad for Polar Bears, Manhattan, All of Humanity — And Winos

Climate Change Is Forcing Polar Bears to Swim for Days on End to Solid Ground
Source: Brian Battaile/AP

The study, published last week in Ecography, states in its abstract that while its rare for mothers to make these treks with offspring, adult female polar bears were associated with what the researchers refer to as the "open water gain."

"With cubs, if they have to undergo a long distance swim, it's basically a death sentence," Derocher told the Washington Post.

In case there was any doubt about what's to blame for the chain of events, researchers didn't mince words. "Results corroborate the hypothesis that long-distance swimming by polar bears is likely to occur more frequently as sea ice conditions change due to climate warming."

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