Meet Nora, one of the cuddliest research assistants to study climate change.

Like most 2-year-olds, Nora is curious, playful, and a little mischievous.

Unlike most 2-year-olds, she tips the scales at several hundred pounds.

That’s because Nora is a polar bear at the Oregon Zoo in Portland.

Nora in the winter habitat at the Oregon Zoo. Photo by Michael Durham/ Oregon Zoo.

This month, Nora hits the road for her new home at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City while the Oregon Zoo undergoes redevelopments. But during her time in Portland, she was able to serve as one of the the U.S. Geological Survey’s youngest( and furriest) research deputies, helping scientists analyze the effects of climate change.

It seems so far removed: Desperate, hungry polar bears clinging to ice floes, ravaged by our changing planet. But it’s happening right now.

Wild polar bears live in a unique and harsh environment and ingest as many calories as they can when conditions allow and food is readily available. However, there is a long period of time when the ice floes melt and polar bears are forced ashore, away from their primary food sources.

“They literally are starving , not eating anything for that four- or five-month period, ” says Amy Cutting, animal curator of the Northern america and Marine Life Exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. “The females are raising young and putting huge amounts of calories into milk they’re producing while not eating. And we know they’re at the limit of what they can do.”

Polar bears are pushing it to metabolic extremes to survive the annual ice-free period. But what will happen as climate change extends the ice-free period even longer?

Thankfully, Nora and researchers with the USGS are on the instance, working to answer the question: What does it physically cost for a bear to swimming from point A to phase B?

To answer that question, the zoo constructed Nora a small pool adjacent to her tank with private gifts.

There, a flume of water acts as an infinity pool, letting Nora( enticed by yummy fish) to swim in place for a period of time.

Nora in the winter habitat at the Oregon Zoo. Photo by Michael Durham/ Oregon Zoo.

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