Category Archives: Sea ice habitat

Challenging NOAA’s “Arctic Report Card 2014” on polar bears

NOAA’s list of purported evidence for harm being caused to polar bears by Arctic warming is short and weak. It puts the gloomiest spin possible on the current well-being of an animal with all the earmarks of a healthy, well-distributed species.

Arctic report card 2014 screencap_Dec 18 2014

This year, polar bears are virtually the only species that NOAA mentions in their Arctic Report Card – they’ve put all their icon-eggs in one leaky basket [what happened to walrus??]. But polar bears are doing so well that to make an alarming case for polar bears as victims of Arctic warming, many important caveats had to be left out or misrepresented. Some details given are simply wrong.

This year’s polar bear chapter was penned by IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group chairman Dag Vongraven (you might recall his email to me earlier this year) and a polar bear conservation activist from Polar Bears International (whose battle cry for donations is Save Our Sea Ice!”), Geoff York.

I challenge their four weak talking points one by one below.

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Hudson Bay sea ice well above average – excellent early December polar bear habitat

Sea ice development for this date is well above average on Hudson Bay – even more so than last week – making three years in a row of average-to-above average ice habitat available to polar bears in early December (see last week’s ice summary here). Coverage for the week of 11 December from 1971 to 2104 below (from Canadian Ice Service):

Hudson Bay freeze-up same week_Dec 11 1971_2014 w average

More maps below (from CIS and NSIDC), see others here.

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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea – November 2014 map

Here is the November 2014 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.”

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 November 2014 is copied below.

 Figure 1. Original caption: "Movements of 12 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of November, 2014. Polar bears were tagged in 2014 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All twelve of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage for 30 November, 2014." Click to enlarge, original here.


Original caption: “Movements of 12 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of November, 2014. Polar bears were tagged in 2014 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All twelve of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage for 30 November, 2014.” Click to enlarge, original here.

All twelve bears (all females) are finally visible on this map, confirming my suspicion that two were so close together they overlapped. Three out of the twelve “Southern Beaufort” bears were in the Chukchi Sea at the end of November (west of Point Lay, see discussion here). If you missed it, my October 2014 post on the progress of these bears has some maps from previous years that are worth reviewing.

Hudson Bay sea ice above average for this date – more good news for polar bears

It’s only the 4th of December and Hudson Bay ice formation is way up over late 2000s coverage for this date — and higher than 2012, which had the lowest overall September ice extent for the Arctic since 1978.

Hudson Bay freeze-up same week_Dec 4 1971_2014 w average

This means boom times for Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears as sea ice formation is several days to a week ahead of last year. And as I mentioned in my last post, average November ice coverage across the Arctic this year was higher than 2003. Don’t forget that 2/3’s of the world’s polar bears live in Canada (see recent status update here; map below).

Figure 4. The Davis Strait (DS) subpopulation region runs from just below the Arctic Circle at the north end to at least 470N in the south. About half of DS lays at the same latitude as Western Hudson Bay (WH). Courtesy Environment Canada.

Polar bear population status in Canada. Courtesy Environment Canada.

More maps and charts below.
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Polar bear habitat update – November 2014 average sea ice levels higher than 2003

Average polar bear habitat for November 2014 was well within two standard deviations1 and higher than 2003, according to the November report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (line and labels added, below).

Arctic ice Nov aver_NSIDC_sm_PolarBearScience

Notice that the lowest average November level occurred in 2006not 2007 (after the second lowest September extent since 1978) and not 2012 (after the lowest September extent since 1978). Take note that the scale on the graph above does not go to zero but to a whopping ~9.5 million square km!

Quotes from the NSIDC monthy report and sea ice maps for November 2014 and 2 December 2014 below.

UPDATE 3 December 2014: CIS has issued a new ice map corrected for ice level on Hudson Bay – new map below.
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Amstrup knows his polar bear predictions are flawed – but continues to promote them

The largest conservation organization in the world says that predictive models developed by polar bear biologist Steven Amstrup are utterly unsuitable for scientifically estimating future populations. Earlier this year, mathematical modeling experts  at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, who maintain the Red List of Threatened Species, made it clear that Amstrup’s models (used in 2008 to convince the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ due to predicted global warming) do not meet IUCN standards.

I’d say this makes Amstrup’s polar bear projections (Amstrup et al. 2008, 2010) no more scientifically useful than a crystal ball prophesy, but you wouldn’t know it by his recent actions — or the silence of his fellows.

crystal ball_3c

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Davis Strait polar bear habitat – the sea ice is forming, but it’s late!

Since 1971, there have been only two years with as little sea ice in Davis Strait as there was this year at this time – 2003 and 2010. But the ice is forming rapidly and history shows it will likely catch up enough by next week to allow most Davis Strait polar bears to start hunting seals except along the Labrador coast.

Courtesy IUCN PBSG

Courtesy IUCN PBSG

Have a look at the ice maps and charts below from the Canadian Ice Service for the status of freeze-up in Davis Strait.

UPDATE 30 November 2014: Sea ice extent map from NSIDC added.

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