Tag Archives: Derocher

Beaufort Sea swimming polar bears far from land but not very far from sea ice

Recent accounts of an encounter with a curious polar bear female and her two older cubs in the Beaufort Sea on 16 September give contradictory details about the position of sea ice at the time. The same researcher told one reporter that the ship was 240 km from land, another that it was 240 km from the sea ice, and in another account (that he wrote himself), said the ship had been far from land and sea ice.

Beaufort swimming polar bears_Sept 30 2015_Global news

University of Victoria (Canada) chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen said on the expedition web site:

“After arriving on station and beginning work the crew noticed three polar bears in the water together which swam around to the ship when our water sampling system was nearly 3500 meters below the surface. The ship was located far from sea ice and land. Indeed, Arctic sea ice extent was the fourth lowest on record this year and there has been speculation that this imposes stress on polar bears which rely on the ice to hunt.”  [my bold]

But the maps below show that at the time of the incident (taken from the expedition web site) and the NSIDC Masie sea ice map for 16 September 2015, the ship [the CCGS Amundsen, acting as a research vessel] was actually quite close to an isolated large patch of sea ice, although further from the edge of the main pack. A patch of sea ice plenty big enough for a polar bear to rest upon – no wonder the bears did not appear stressed.

And the polar bear biologist Cullen consulted (Dr. Andrew Derocher) implied by his response that the bear was indeed far from sea ice. Reminds me of the swimming polar bear off the Hibernia oil platform off Newfoundland March 2015, which turned out to be not far from ice at all. See what you think.
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Heavy ice in Hudson Bay derails ArcticNet global warming research plans: irony bites

Heavy ice in Hudson Bay derails CCGS Amundsen’s research plans” – just in from the CBC (22 July 2015, via Twitchy). Worst ice in 20 years.

ccgs-pierre-radisson-in-sea-ice_to_Iqaluit_july 17_2015

[original caption for the above photo: “The CCGS Pierre Radisson escorts the oil tanker Havelstern to Iqaluit July 17. Tough ice conditions in area have delayed this summer’s annual resupply, and have now derailed the CCGS Amundsen from its carefully planned summer research program.”]

Worst ice conditions in 20 years force change of plans to icebreaker research program

That would be 1992 they’re talking about, the cold year that everyone blamed on the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. Unfortunately, there are no good detailed ice maps from 1992 (see previous post here). What’s the excuse this year?

CCGS Amundsen is an icebreaker that is usually released from duty to serve as an Arctic research vessel in the summer. And who’s on board? GEOTRACES 2015 Arctic Expedition out of the University of British Columbia with a plan to study (in part) global warming caused “ocean acidification.” Their short blog post shows a map without ice and not a hint they see the irony of the situation.

Here’s the ice they’re talking about (from the Canadian Ice Service), with the communities mentioned in the study marked:

Sea ice at 22 July 2015, with Inukjuak (EHB) and Iqaliuk, Baffin Island marked. Click to enlarge.

Sea ice at 22 July 2015, with Inukjuak, Eastern Hudson Bay, and Iqaliuk, Baffin Island, marked. CIS map. Click to enlarge.

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Alarm over future summer polar bear habitat disguises how good conditions are right now

Despite the public outcry last week over future polar bear survival, the polar-bears-are-doomed crowd can’t hide the fact that this year, spring sea ice habitat for polar bears worldwide has been excellent.

A polar bear walks on the Arctic Ocean ice Aug. 21, 2009.

This year on 19 July, for example, Hudson Bay had greater than 150,000 square km more sea ice than there was in 2009 on that date (526.2 vs. 368.5 mkm2)(1992 was a particularly cold year and most bears left the ice as late in 2009 as they did in 1992).1 Conditions have also been excellent for pregnant females around Svalbard – Norwegian polar bear researchers recently reported a good crop of cubs this spring.

Hudson Bay breakup July 20 2015_CIS

Worldwide, there was exactly the same amount of Arctic sea ice present on 18 July 2015 as there was back in 2006 (Day 199) – 8.4 mkm2. By 19 July (day 200), 2015 had more ice than 2006 (8.4 mkm2 vs. 8.3).

All this means that recent summer ice melt has not impinged on the spring feeding period that is so critically important for polar bears. So much ice left in early summer means there was lots of sea ice in the spring (April-June), even in the Southern Beaufort Sea.

The only region with sea ice coverage well below the last five years is the Chukchi Sea (see plots below, click to enlarge). So why aren’t we hearing the-sky-is-falling stories about Chukchi bears? Because biologist have already demonstrated that polar bears in the Chukchi do very well even with no summer sea ice.
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Sea ice breakup update: high ice coverage just about everywhere, even Hudson Bay

There is still a lot of sea ice in Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin, Davis Strait and Baffin Bay this week – more than average for this date – with slightly less than average in the Beaufort Sea. Past behaviour of Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears suggests the mean date that bears come ashore for the summer this year will be later than average due to the plentiful ice available, regardless of when polar bear biologists decide that “breakup” has occurred.

Hudson Bay breakup July 8 2015_CIS

Hudson Bay, with almost 50% of the bay still covered in ice, has the third highest coverage this week since 1992 (after 2009 and 2004); Davis Strait has the highest coverage since 1992; and Foxe Basin and Baffin Bay have the highest coverage since 1998. For this week, the Beaufort Sea has the second highest coverage since 2006 (after 2013), and more ice than was present in 1971, 1982, 1987, 1988 and 1998 – among others.

Published data shows that most polar bears of Western Hudson Bay traditionally come ashore in July, but this year it might be late July or even August. Have a look at the charts below.
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Polar Bear Science envy – polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher steals my blog name

I’ve got an imitator! It appears that a recently created website promoting polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher’s lab at the University of Alberta just happens to have the same title as my blog: Polar Bear Science.

Derocher lab website title page_July 5 2015

Oscar Wilde said:

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

Gosh, I’m seriously chuffed.

From the look of it, Derocher and his students would like to ride on the coattails of my online success and garner some Google-search views for themselves – check my blog stats, lower right: I’m coming up on half a million views in just under three years (since 26 July 2012).

Sadly for them, it does not appear to be working.
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Hudson Bay breakup later than average, longer hunting season for polar bears

Due to the atypical pattern of sea ice melt on Hudson Bay this year, 2015 will definitely be a later than average breakup year – perhaps not as late as 1992 but maybe almost as late as 2009. Easing into the first days of Arctic summer, there is still a lot of polar bear habitat left on Hudson Bay, especially in the east.

Hudson Bay breakup 2015 vs 2009 at 29 June_MASIE

Although official breakup in 2009 was only a little later than usual (9 July), bears came ashore about the same time (after mid-August) as they did in 1992, when breakup was very late (30 July). With the pattern this year being so unusual (and the melt so slow over the last few weeks), who knows how late it could be before the last bears leave the ice in 2015?

There is definitely more sea ice this year on the bay than there was last year, when breakup was about average for the last 24 years.

UPDATE 2 July 2015: CIS weekly ice coverage graphs added to the end of this post. Hudson Bay ice highest since 2009 and Davis Strait highest since 1994! Have a look.
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Same amount of sea ice for Hudson Bay polar bears as 2013, bears still on the ice

Sea ice coverage for Hudson Bay on 14 June converged on levels recorded in 2013, when breakup was slightly later than the average of the last two decades.


There is also more ice over Hudson Bay than there was in 2011, which was an early breakup year (charts for other Arctic regions here, originals here).

Andrew Derocher notes (via twitter) that rather than heading to shore, most of the Hudson Bay bears with satellite tracking collars (7/10) are out on the ice (Fig. 1 below). They appear to be hunting along the ice edge, where they are most likely to find seals.

Update 17 June 2015: Sea ice images for the week 18 June 2015 compared to other years added below, for Hudson Bay and the Beaufort Sea.

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