Fox’s Glacier Mints Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

This month, Fox’s Glacier Mints, a famous candy brand from the United Kingdom, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Fox company was founded in Leicester by Walter Richard Fox in 1895. However, the glacier mints were created by Fox’s son Eric Smart Fox by mistake in 1918. His modified candy recipe resulted in a transparent peppermint, which he named “Clear Mint Fingers.” The candies not only looked like glaciers, with their clear appearance, but many people also thought they tasted like them. As one customer, a woman named Sandy, told GlacierHub in the candy section of a local Bronx Target store in New York City, the mints are “refreshing and cool.” She added, “When you think about it, the name Glacier Mints is quite apt.”

Fox’s Glacier Mints (Source: Fox’s Glaciers/Twitter)
Fox’s Glacier Mints (Source: Fox’s Glaciers/Twitter).

In five years, Fox managed to expand his business to have a space in London’s Oxford Street by 1923. Since then, the image of a polar bear has been used in the marketing of these “Glacier Mints.” Known as Peppy, short for peppermint, the polar bear soon became the official mascot and icon of the brand. With a limited budget for marketing, Fox started to display a 1.5-metre-tall stuffed Peppy at football matches and carnivals to advertise the product in the 1920s, legend has it. This form of marketing continued for some decades, all the way until 1960.

In 2006, the company donated the polar bear to a museum in Leicester. According to Moran, the firm’s brand manager said in an interview that Peppy “had been left forgotten in a factory for over 20 years” since its public appearance drastically declined after the 1960s and was mostly in storage thereafter. However, little was known about the polar bear, including who the designer was, its gender or where it was made.

From 1970 onward, while the original Peppy sat n storage, his or her image was used for print and TV campaigns, joined by other characters, including an arctic fox. In the short commercials, a love-hate relationship developed between Peppy and the fox, often capturing the audience’s attention with a traditional British sense of humor. The mints also alluded to glaciers frequently, with words like “cool,” “clear” and “refreshing” in the advertisements.

However, the Fox brand may still be unfamiliar to many Americans. Through a short survey, admittedly unscientific, conducted in the candy section of the previously-mentioned Target store, GlacierHub discovered that only three out of 15 customers had ever heard of the candy brand. In fact, none had any recollection of watching the TV commercials. Sadly, the Target store also did not carry any Fox’s Glacier Mints, but the mints are available online through sites like Amazon.

Mascot Peppy Display (Source: Carmel Clapson/Twitter)
Mascot Peppy Display (Source: Carmel Clapson/Twitter).

“Although I have never had that particular brand of mints, when you asked me about my opinion on glaciers, the thought of a mint just kept resurfacing now that you mentioned ‘Glacier Mints.’ Whoever thought of associating mints and glaciers is a genius!” exclaimed a customer named Andrew.

“I always associated glacier mints with clear mints, although I did not know it originated from Fox’s. I think there are other brands selling clear mints in the market now– they are not the only one,” another customer Amy told GlacierHub. Indeed, other brands such as Perugina and Cristal have marketed their clear mints as glaciers and crystals.

Perugina’s and Cristal’s Clear Mints (Source: Amazon)
Perugina’s and Cristal’s Clear Mints (Source: Amazon).

With the demand for candy high nowadays, the competition remains fierce for brands in the market. However, Fox’s found the perfect marketing for their clear mints, cleverly using the “cool” and “refreshing” glacier theme. The next time you need a chill pill, you now know the perfect glacier candy.


Polar Bears and Ringed Seals: A Relationship in Transition

Disconnected sea-ice during the Svalbard summer (Source: Allan Hopkins/Creative Commons).

Along the tidal glacier fronts of Svalbard, an archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole, polar bears have changed their hunting practices. A recent study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology indicates the new behavior is a response to rapidly disappearing sea ice. Charmain Hamilton and other researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute mapped changes in the spatial overlap between coastal polar bears and their primary prey, ringed seals, to better understand how the bears are responding to climate change. The results don’t bode well for the long-term survival of polar bear populations: as sea ice continues to shrink in area, ringed seals—calorie-rich prey that are high in fat— have become increasingly difficult to catch during the summer and autumn. The bears are now finding sources of sustenance elsewhere: in the archipelago’s thriving bird colonies.

The Arctic is warming at a rate three times the global average, and the sea ice in the Svalbard region is experiencing a faster rate of decline than in other Arctic areas. As Charmain Hamilton reported in an interview with GlacierHub, the findings could demonstrate what the future holds for the top predator elsewhere. “The changes that we are currently seeing in Svalbard are likely to spread to other Arctic areas over the coming decades,” she said.

A polar bear steps across a gap in the sea ice near Spitsbergen, Svalbard (Source: Thomas Nilsen/The Barents Observer).

Svalbard’s polar bears exhibit one of two annual movement patterns: some follow the sea ice as it retreats northward during the summer, while others stay local, inhabiting coastal areas throughout the year. Both groups of bears depend on sea ice as a platform to hunt ringed seals. Given a rapid decline of sea-ice levels that began in 2006, Hamilton and other researchers wanted to know if the coastal bears were still hunting ringed seals under the deteriorating conditions.

The researchers compared satellite tracking data for both polar bears and ringed seals from the periods 2002-2004 and 2010-2013 to assess whether the predator-prey dynamic had shifted. The data was analyzed according to season, with researchers paying careful attention to the dynamics of spring, summer and autumn.

In spring, access to fat-rich ringed seals is critical, particularly for mothers weakened from nourishing their young in winter dens. The study shows that coastal polar bears continued to spend the same amount of time near tidal glacier fronts in spring as they did when sea ice was more abundant. The authors conclude that the declines in sea ice in Svalbard have not yet reached the stage at which bears must find alternative hunting methods during the spring. This could help to explain why cub production is not currently declining.

A calving glacier in Svalbard (Source: Geir Wing Gabrielsen/Norwegian Polar Institute).

However, during summer and autumn, bears are spending less time in the areas around tidal glacier fronts. The study shows a significant decrease in the amount of time bears spent within 5 km of glacier fronts and a sharp increase in the distances they traveled in search of food per day. The ringed seals, on the other hand, have remained near the glacier fronts. As Hamilton reported to GlacierHub, “The reduced spatial overlap between polar bears and ringed seals during the summer indicates that the reductions in sea ice have made it much more difficult for polar bears to hunt their primary prey during this season.”

As sea ice recedes, ringed seals are increasingly relying on calved pieces of glacier ice as shelters and resting places. Since these pieces of calved ice are no longer connected to land-fast ice, polar bears can no longer walk up to the seals or wait by their breathing holes, but have to attack from the water. This involves swimming surreptitiously up to seals resting on calved glacier ice and bursting onto the platform to make a kill. But this specialty hunting technique has only been observed in a minority of bears.

A Svalbard polar bear eats a ringed seal on a calved piece of glacier ice (Source: Kit Kovacs and Christian Lydersen/Norwegian Polar Institute).

So where are the coastal bears getting their calories during summer and autumn? The study shows that along with the marked decline in sea ice, the coastal bears were spending more of their time around ground-nesting bird colonies. At present, these tactics seem to be working. The bears are benefiting from a large increase in the populations of several avian species in the region, which Hamilton attributes to ongoing international conservation efforts along migration routes. While an increase in the amount of time polar bears spend on land is considered a cause of deteriorating health in other bear populations, the adult bears and cubs of Svalbard have not shown marked signs of decline.

Have the bears found a lasting alternative? Jon Aars, a research scientist and one of the co-authors on the paper, doesn’t think so. In an interview with GlacierHub, Aars emphasized that while birds and eggs provide the bears with an alternative to burning fat reserves as they wait for the sea ice to return, the dynamic is not permanent. “It is not likely that switching to eating more birds and eggs is something that can save polar bears in the long run if sea ice is gone for the whole of, or most of, the year,” he said. “We do think the bears are still dependent on seals to build up sufficient fat reserves. And it is limited how many bears can utilize a restricted source of eggs and birds on the islands.”

A mother and her cubs look out across an ice-free stretch of bay as they hunt for birds and eggs (Source: Thomas Nilsen/The Barents Observer).

The bears have adapted to the current change in their environment but may not be able to adapt as well in the future. The authors of the paper point out that the increased rates of movement required to hunt avian prey increases the bears’ energy needs. Additionally, as more bears rely on avian prey, their high rate of predation means that bird populations on the archipelago will likely decline, causing bears to alter their hunting strategies again. Ringed seals have not changed their own spatial practices, and the authors propose that more bears could learn, or be forced to learn, the aquatic hunting method.

However, ringed seal populations are in decline due to the loss of sea ice, according to Hamilton. Thus, the future of both species in the region is uncertain. In sensitive environments like the Arctic, predator-prey dynamics are fragile, particularly for species of such high trophic positions. In the future, Hamilton would like to include other Arctic marine top predators in similar studies to better understand how Arctic marine mammal communities are being impacted.

Glaciers Act as Pollutant Transporters in the Arctic

Polar bear and her cubs in Svalbard (source: Alistar Rae/Flickr)
A polar bear and her cubs in Svalbard (Source: Alistar Rae/Creative Commons).

When people think of the Arctic, they often think of polar bears on melting sea ice, not of an area contaminated by pollutants. However, according to an article by Maria Papale et al. in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, findings of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Arctic demonstrate that ice can be a major transporter of pollutants in this remote region. The research team examined the concentration of PCBs in a fjord called Kongfjorden, located in Svalbard in Arctic Norway (79° N, 12° E), in order to understand how the Arctic is affected by pollutants. Given the impact these chemicals can have on human and animal health, the increase in ice melt due to climate change will have serious consequences for the release of these toxins.

Kongsfjorden is located in Svalbard, an archipelago in Arctic Norway (Source: TUBS/Creative Commons).

PCBs are an important type of persistent organic pollutants (POPs); as such, they have a long lifetime in the environment, although they can be broken down by sunlight or some microorganisms. They are compounds once used heavily in the production of refrigerator coolants, electrical insulators and other items from 1929 until the late 1970s, when they were banned in the United States and elsewhere due to health concerns, particularly their carcinogenic effects. The presence of PCBs in Svalbard in the Arctic Basin indicates some form of long-distance transport because the Arctic is thousands of miles from industrial centers where PCBs are produced. Pollutants like PCBs are transported from regions in the northern mid-latitudes into the Arctic by the prevailing winds and ocean currents.

As Papale et al. explain, the PCBs deposited from the atmosphere accumulate on the snow and ice. This deposition has a drastic effect on the region, because PCBs that get trapped in the ice are ultimately released into the environment once the ice melts. For this reason, decades-old PCBs can enter rivers and oceans now, as glaciers melt; they are also emitted when PCB-containing materials wear out through use or when they are burned. In the Arctic, concentrations of PCBs are on average 0.2 ng/m3. Those concentrations have increased since the 1980s, after the banning of PCBs in the United States.

A view of Kongsfjorden (Source: Sphinx/Creative Commons).

Once introduced into the food web, the fate of PCBs depends on which bacteria is present in the environment, since bacteria, such as Actinobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria, possess genetic and biochemical capacities for breaking down PCB pollution. Papale et al. gathered data on the occurrence of cold-adapted, PCB-oxidizing bacteria in seawater and sediment along Kongsfjord, a fjord located on the west coast of Spitsbergen, an island in the Svalbard archipelago. The fjord is fed by two glaciers, Kronebreen and Kongsvegen. The outer fjord is influenced by oceanographic conditions, while the inner fjord is influenced by large tidewater glaciers.

Higher concentrations of PCBs were observed in the water right next to the glacier (due to high flows of sediment and sea currents) or next to the open sea (likely due to water circulation inside the fjord). The higher concentrations of PCBs next to the glacier indicate the influence of glacial meltwater containing PCBs. Once the PCBs arrive in Svalbard Archipelago by long-range transport, they build up in the glaciers on Kongfjorden, sometimes by attaching to fine-grained particles, which are then incorporated into the ice. When the ice melts in the summer, the glacier meltwater containing PCBs flows into the fjord and could also freeze into sea ice in the winter. Sea ice transported from other regions also brings POPs to the region. For example, Arctic Ocean sea ice that forms near Siberia can contain pollutant-laden sediments; it is carried to Svalbard by currents, receiving depositions from the atmosphere as it travels. It can also contain heavy metals like lead, iron and copper, as well as organochlorides like PCBs or DDTs.

A view of one of Kongsfjorden’s glacier (Source: Superchilum/Creative Commons).

Once PCBs enter the waters of Kongsfjorden, they can be absorbed by plankton and other organisms at the bottom of food webs. They become concentrated in the tissues of the invertebrates that eat these organisms. As they pass up the food webs to organisms such as fish, and then to birds and mammals, the concentrations increase, through a process known as bioaccumulation. Recent research has found dangerous levels of these compounds in polar bears, a top predator. As advocacy organizations for these iconic animals have argued, these toxins represent an additional threat to the viability of the species, already challenged by the loss of icebergs and sea ice so critical to their survival. In this way, polar bears can provide testimony to the dangers of chemical pollution, as well as to the dangers of global warming, in the remote high Arctic.