Category Archives: Sea ice habitat

Polar bear habitat update – even more ice this week in the Barents Sea

Polar bear habitat is close to average for this date all over the Arctic this week. Barents Sea pack ice has increased substantially since last week and the ice in Eastern Canada is still well above average (and higher than 1979-early 1980s). Arctic ice has grown since a preemptive call for “the lowest maximum extent on record” was made by NSIDC last week — there is now at least as much ice for this date as there was in 2011 and almost as much as there was last year (2014).

Polar Bear Breaks Ice

Southern Davis Strait polar bears are out feeding on the glut of harp seals in the pack ice off Labrador and Newfoundland (discussed in detail here). One or more bears strayed a bit from the pack and ended up swimming around near the Hibernia oil platform (not far from the ice edge, although the CBC reports didn’t mention that “minor” fact), discussed in this recently updated post (with maps).

Harp seal female with nursing pup, DFO Canada.

Harp seal female with nursing pup, DFO Canada.

Ice maps and graphs below: it’s worth a look.
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Polar bear visiting Hibernia oil platform off Newfoundland was not far from sea ice

Perhaps the folks on the platform couldn’t see it, but sea ice wasn’t far off on Monday when a polar bear came to visit the Hibernia oil platform southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland. See the map below (composite from Heritage Newfoundland and Canadian Ice Service):

Hibernia platform and sea ice at 23 March 2015_Polarbearscience
UPDATE 26 March 2015: Ian Stirling has added his expert comment on this incident, see below.

UPDATE 28 March 2015: Newfoundland’s Director of Wildlife has commented on this incident, see below.
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Hypocrisy of Arctic biologists: fossil fuels for me but not for thee

It takes a special kind of gall for biologists to plead for more funds to count and study Arctic marine mammals they claim are endangered by the use of fossil fuels, when their proposed field work cannot be done without the use of fossil fuels.

Polar_Bear_Biologist_USFWS_working_with_a_Bear_Oct 24 2001 Amstrup photo

A new Arctic “policy” paper was promoted last week by academia (press release here), blogged about by those who were unimpressed (“Another ‘polar bears are in trouble’ story….yawwwn”) and highlighted by a few who were impressed (the magazines SCIENCE: Huge data gaps cloud fate of Arctic mammals” and SMITHSONIAN (“It’s Hard to Protect Arctic Mammals When We Don’t Know How Many Live There”) — but covered by only one media outlet that I could find (e.g., here).

The paper is a decidedly odd mix: a plea for more research funds for increased monitoring of animal populations plus strident advocacy for regulating “greenhouse gases.”

The authors repeatedly used the phrase “greenhouse gases” in their paper (seven times) but did not mention “fossil fuels” even once, despite the clear relationship between fossil fuel use and the phenomenon known as anthropogenic global warming (AGW), examples here and here. Are they self-deluded — or deliberately disingenuous about their own contributions to a problem they insist is the greatest threat to survival of Arctic marine mammals?
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Polar bear habitat update – more spring sea ice around Svalbard than 2014 & 2012

Polar bear habitat for the last week of March is well above average in eastern Canada for the second year in a row. The very low extent of ice in the Sea of Okhotsk – which has contributed strongly to the low maximum extent this year – is irrelevant to our discussion, since no polar bears live there.

Polar_Bear_male_Regehr photo_March 21 2010_labeled

There is a bit more concentrated ice around Svalbard than last year (or in 2012), although ice in the Barents Sea in general is still below average due to the state of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). The state of the AMO and its effects on Barents Sea polar bear sea ice habitat has nothing to do with global warming: it’s a cycle that has been documented for centuries (Miles et al. 2014).

Still, there is plenty enough sea ice for polar bear hunting: this is the beginning of the critical feeding time for all polar bears (see here and here), but especially for the survival of new cubs-of-the-year, so I have a few words about Western Hudson Bay cubs below.

Have a look for yourself.
Update: Added 20 March 2015, comparison maps from Cryosphere Today for 2006 vs. 2015.
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No evidence of actual damage to polar bear brains from environmental contaminants

Earlier this year we had polar bear penis bones supposedly breaking due to environmental toxins; this week we have their brains damaged.

The March 15 ScienceNordic story (“Chemical pollution is causing brain damage in polar bears”) came complete with a photo of a bear (copied below, provided by research co-author Rune Dietz) that is presumably meant to convey what a “brain damaged” polar bear might look like — if not, perhaps another photo would have been a better choice?

Polar bear looking brain damaged Rune Dietz photo Science Nordic

Except, the research only showed there theoretically might be damage but the researchers didn’t bother looking for it before shouting out their findings. All about the scary message, these folks: the very large uncertainties and speculation in their research be damned.
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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea – February 2015 map

Here is the February 2015 follow-up to my post on the July 2013 track map for female polar bears being followed by satellite in the Beaufort Sea by the US Geological Survey (USGS) – “Ten out of ten polar bears being tracked this summer in the Beaufort Sea are on the ice.”

polar_bear with collar_USGS

See that post for methods and other background on this topic, and some track maps from 2012 (also available at the USGS website here). The USGS track map for February 2015 is copied below.

There were 7 bears in February, up from 6 in January, because one of the bears has re-entered the area from elsewhere. However, many bears from the original sample have either had their collars fail, moved out of the area and stayed out, or they have died. We can’t tell from which of those options, or combinations of them, explain the reduced number still being followed.
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IUCN Specialist Group quietly adds “sea ice changes” to their polar bear status table

In late January, the IUCN PBSG made significant changes to its polar bear status table but did not think it was worth bringing to the public’s attention via a tweet, press release or note on their web site’s home page.

Hudson Bay female with cub_Wapusk_Thorsten Milse_Gov CA

What changes? Well, while the group did not see fit to agree with all of Environment Canada’s assessments (e.g. listing Davis Strait bears as “likely increasing” compared to the PBSG’s “stable”, see full list here), it did upgrade their status of Western Hudson Bay bears to ‘stable’ (which EC did back in June 2014).

More significantly, however, they also added two metrics of sea ice change to their assessment table, presumably because alongside ‘human-caused removals’ (which they also track in their tables)1, sea ice changes are supposedly critical ‘threats’ to polar bear health and survival.

So critical, in fact, that they’ve only just now gotten around to measuring it consistently across polar bear territory. Funny thing is, they cite no document that shows the sea ice change calculations for each subpopulation region, nor who generated them.

Let me be clear: no one has ever generated such a sea ice metric before – it is a unique PBSG construct that you will find nowhere else. By providing no documentation that lays out the calculations for inspection, the PBSG are simply insisting the public accept their unpublished, non-peer-reviewed work on faith. Details below.
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