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Kelvin High School students visit Churchill to study climate change effects on polar bears

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Students from a Winnipeg high school are getting the chance to study the effects of climate change on polar bears after a trip to Churchill this month.

Kelvin High School students recently visited the northern Manitoba community to study and monitor the body conditions of polar bears. It's part of a long-term research project on climate change and the ecology of the Canadian subarctic.

"We went on tundra buggies and took lots of photos of all these bears, with the intention of taking body condition index," said student Oskar Krause.

The Manitoba Northern Student-led Arctic Research program (Manitoba NorthSTAR) promotes student-led research, focusing on non-invasive polar bear imaging using photo-identification software. Students learned to analyze the body condition of the bears based on their high-resolution photography.

Grade 12 student Natasha Frost explains how they make the calculations.

"It's like a ratio," she said. "You take the amount of pixels from the top of the shoulder blade to the bottom of the foot, and then you take the measurement from the lowest part of the belly to the top of the back. And you can calculate the index to see how healthy this bear is."

Students spent several days touring the northern part of the province in tundra buggies, searching for polar bears in the wild. They were even treated to a rare sight: a mother bear with three cubs.

"Something the buggy drivers themselves hadn't seen in decades," Krause said.

He said the experience has him looking into a career in biology.

"Taking field notes and learning how to analyze the data, stuff like that was really interesting," Krause said.

"It's really cool to be a part of it, and it's really cool to see like I'm just a piece of this big project and that it may go further."

The students will present their findings at the conference of the Canadian Section of the Wildlife Society in February 2024.

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