Tag Archives: sea ice extent

Polar bear habitat update – ice coverage at the beginning of this year’s critical feeding period

Polar bears are all out on the sea ice at this time of year, feeding on new-born seal pups. Here’s a look at what the ice conditions are like at this critical time.

Polar_Bear_male on sea ice_Alaska Katovik Regehr photo_April 29, 2005_sm labeled

end April extent NSIDC May 4

The ice extent is still well within two standard deviations from the 1981-2010 average, which indicates no deviation from natural variation, as the graph (below) for May 1, 2014 from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) shows.

Sea ice extent 2014 May 1_NSIDC_graph

Between the official spring maximum (according to the NSIDC ) on March 21, with a total extent of 14.8 million km2, the ice slowly retreated in some regions and increased in others, while most regions remained pretty much the same. This is an important reminder that the Arctic as a whole is not a homogeneous region but one with marked regional variation.

As has been noted elsewhere (Sunshine Hours), ice in the Greenland Sea (habitat of ‘East Greenland’ bears) and the Barents Sea both increased in extent over this period. Bering Sea ice (habitat of southern ‘Chukchi Sea’ bears) declined markedly but Baffin Bay/Gulf of St. Lawrence ice (habitat of ‘Davis Strait’ bears) declined much less, as NOAA’s MASIE maps copied below show very well.

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Davis Strait polar bear habitat higher now than in 1979 and early 1980s

The Davis Strait polar bear subpopulation is said to be ‘vulnerable’ to the supposed effects of global warming because, like Hudson Bay, Davis Strait sea ice retreats every summer, leaving polar bears on land for several months.

However, Davis Strait bears have been upgraded to ‘stable’ status, according to the latest table (2013) issued by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (see their boundary map for Davis Strait bears below). Recent development of sea ice in the region can only improve that rating.

[More background here and heremap-DavisStrait

It seems that sea ice in Davis Strait is well above normal for this time of year – a recent announcement by the Canadian Ice Service (CIS) says it’s 10% above average, higher than it’s been in 25 years (h/t S. Goddard).

The Canadian Ice Service, an arm of Environment Canada, said there is 10 per cent more ice this year compared to the 30-year average.

We probably haven’t seen a winter this bad as far as ice for the past 25 years,” said Voight, referring to both the amount and thickness of the ice.

He said the Gulf of St. Lawrence is covered and some areas are “quite severe.” [my bold]

Full story here.

Latest ice map (March 12) below from the US National Snow and Ice Data Service (NSIDC).

As I pointed out recently here, Barents Sea ice is below average this year, largely due to natural variation in the Atlantic Multidecal Oscillation (AMO), but is higher over the western Atlantic (Sea of Okhotsk ice is below average too but there are no polar bears there).

There is lots of ice around Labrador and Newfoundland, however.

Sea ice extent 2014 March 12 NSIDC

I thought I let you see exactly what CIS are talking about: what did the ice look like 25 years ago, in 1989? What about 35 years ago, in 1979, the start of the satellite record for sea ice? It might surprise you. Continue reading

Barents Sea polar bear condition varies with AMO and spring sea ice conditions

Fig. 1. NSIDC sea ice extent at March 8, 2014 (a "MASIE" product), with labels added. Click to enlarge.

Figure 1. NSIDC sea ice extent at March 8, 2014 (a “MASIE” product), with labels added. Click to enlarge.

In its end of February report, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) noted that Barents Sea ice was below average for this time of year (see Fig. 1 above, and Fig. 5 below) but suggested this was primarily due to natural variation driven by the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO):

“The Barents Sea has experienced consistently low extents, particularly in winter, and this year has been no different. While the Barents and Kara seas normally have close to 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) of ice in February, recent years have seen 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) of ice extent or lower. This year, the Kara Sea is near average, but the Barents Sea remains low (Figure 4a). Unlike other regions in the Arctic, longer records of Barents Sea ice extent exist from records of fishing, whaling, and other activities. A recent paper (Miles et al., 2013 [2014, now in print]) examined these records, along with paleoproxy data, to examine extent over the past four hundred years. They found a 60- to 90-year cycle in Barents and Greenland seas ice extent related to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO); the AMO is a basin-wide cycle of sea surface temperature variability similar to the El Niño and La Niña cycles in the Pacific, but varying over much longer periods. This research shows that in addition to the warming trend in the Arctic, some sea ice regions are likely also responding to natural climate variability.” [my bold]

The paper they cite (Miles et al. 2014, discussed elsewhere in December 2013 here) described the AMO this way:

“The AMO is a coherent pattern of basin-wide sea surface temperature (SST) variations with a period of roughly 60–90 years. ..Paleoenvironmental studies suggest that the AMO has persisted through previous centuries [Gray et al., 2004] and even millennia [Knudsen et al., 2011].”

Note that Miles and colleagues were looking at ice records on or around the sea ice maximum in winter/spring.

The Polar Bear Twist: Norwegian biologists Jon Aars and Magnus Andersen, who I’ve discussed before, have pointed out that the condition of polar bear males and females around Svalbard (Fig. 2) they examined over the last 20 years varied with the AMO and sea ice levels in spring and early summer. [research results posted at the website for Environmental Monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ), Norwegian Polar Institute].

Figure 1. The Barents Sea polar bear subpopulation, courtesy the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group. "Svalbard" is the largest archipelago, in the eastern portion.

Figure 2. The Barents Sea polar bear subpopulation boundaries, courtesy the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group. Svalbard is the largest archipelago, closest to the East Greenland Sea.

That makes a lot of sense to me, given that spring/early summer is the most critical feeding season for polar bears because it’s when fat young seals are most easily available.

It also makes sense to me that you may need a record hundreds of years long to understand the natural variability of Arctic Sea ice in its various regions. Recall that natural variation, not global warming, is now being used to explain the large variation in annual sea ice cover in the Bering Sea (home to Chukchi Sea polar bears). Continue reading

Of Labrador polar bears and sea ice way above normal off Newfoundland

A report yesterday of polar bears making a nuisance of themselves in Black Tickle, southern Labrador is the inspiration for this post. Those bears are part of the Davis Strait subpopulation (discussed previously here and here). Black Tickle is marked on the map below.

Black-tickle-map-Labrador

Arctic sea ice is tracking just at the edge of two standard deviations for this time of year but while extent is low in the Barents Sea, it is way up around the east coast of Canada.
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Eat, wash up, repeat; eat, wash up, repeat…polar bears do it too!

Ah, that never-ending treadmill of meal preparation and cleanup. You might be surprised to find out that polar bears do it too.

Figure 1. How do polar bears look so clean most of the time when they get this bloody on a regular basis? They wash up! [This picture is not from Stirling’s paper].

Figure 1. How do polar bears look so clean most of the time when they get this bloody on a regular basis? They wash up!

I found an interesting description of polar bears washing during and after feeding, by a young Ian Stirling in one of his earliest published polar bear papers (Stirling 1974). At the time, he was observing polar bears on southwest Devon Island (74°43′ N; 91°10′ W, see Fig. 2 below) between 24 July and 8 August 1973. Even today, there’s ice for hunting seals in mid-to-late-summer in that part of Canada (Fig. 3).
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Polar bear habitat update – January 2014

Sea ice in the Arctic a bit below the 1981-2010 average for this date  but still within two standard deviations, with more ice than average off Canada — indicating we are still within expected natural variation, statistically speaking.

Remember that the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) says this about standard deviation:

“Measurements that fall far outside of the two standard deviation range or consistently fall outside that range suggest that something unusual is occurring that can’t be explained by normal processes.”

Ice maps below, click to enlarge.

 Figure 1. Sea ice and lake ice concentration from the Canadian Ice Service (CIS) for 31 January, 2014. Note the amount of ice in the east, off Labrador (the “Davis Strait” polar bear subpopulation).


Figure 1. Sea ice and lake ice concentration from the Canadian Ice Service (CIS) for 31 January, 2014. Note the amount of ice in the east, off Labrador (the “Davis Strait” polar bear subpopulation).

Figure 2. Sea ice extent from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for 29 January 2014. Note that the extent of ice in eastern Canada noted in Fig. 1 is slightly more than the 1981-2010 average (the orange line), while other areas have slightly less than average for this date. Compare ice growth over the last month to Fig. 3 below.

Figure 2. Sea ice extent from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for 29 January 2014. Note that the extent of ice in eastern Canada noted in Fig. 1 is slightly more than the 1981-2010 average (the orange line), while other areas have slightly less than average for this date. Compare ice growth over the last month to Fig. 3 below.

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New interactive sea ice atlas for Alaska, 1953-2012: check out past polar bear habitat

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) is offering a new interactive sea ice map (which they call an atlas), that looks interesting and potentially useful, announced at Alaska Dispatch over the weekend (January 25, 2014: New sea ice map offers a long-term look at climate change).

UAF Sea ice atlas_May 1958 screenshot

At the moment, the years and months available include January 1953 to December 2012. Oddly, 2013 data is not included. The sea ice atlas charts polar bear habitat for the Southern Beaufort and Chukchi Sea subpopulations (including the Bering Sea), as well as the western portion of the Northern Beaufort Sea subpopulation region.
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Amstrup’s comment on his starving polar bear article and my response

Steve Amstrup has left a comment below his January 20, 2014 “starving polar bears’ article at The Conversation, which I discussed in my last post.

I’ve copied his comment below and the response to his comment that I left this morning, which is copied below his. See the entire comment sequence here.
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Nature acknowledges warming hiatus, but does not explain continued declines in Arctic sea ice

Although there have been jumps and dips, average atmospheric temperatures have risen little since 1998, in seeming defiance of projections of climate models and the ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.” Jeff Tollefson, January 15, 2014, Nature. [open access]

The eminent science journal Nature has finally acknowledged that global average temperatures have not behaved as predicted by climate models over the last 16 years. [h/t A. Watts]

Note that predictions of future sea ice declines and associated predictions of future polar bear declines are totally dependent on these climate models.

Here’s my question: if global temperatures have basically flat-lined since 1998, why has Arctic sea ice continued to decline?

If average global temperatures govern Arctic sea ice behavior, why was 1998 (or the year after) not the lowest September sea ice extent reached over the last 30 years? Oddly, 2012 was the lowest September extent (see graphs below, from NSIDC).

Paradoxically, not only has sea ice continued to decline since 1998 – despite the hiatus in global warming – but since 1998, all but one polar bear populations have either increased in size, not declined, or are doing very well by other measures (see previous summary post, Polar bears have not been harmed by sea ice declines).

Sea ice extent graphs for September (which all the hysteria is about) compared to selected months from March, June and November. Ranges given are approximate; note the differences in scale for each graph. NSIDC graphs, colored labels added.

Sea ice extent graphs for September (which all the hysteria is about) compared to selected months from March, June and November. Ranges given are approximate; note the differences in scale for each graph. NSIDC graphs, colored labels added.

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Polar bear habitat update, December – still like 2009

From the end of October to mid-December, there has been a rapid expansion of polar bear habitat.

This month, I’ve constructed two all-in-one images that show the progressive growth of the ice relative to some critical polar bear onshore summer refuge areas and denning territory. I’ve also included a map that compares 2013 to 2009 at 18 December with the average for the 1980s, and one that shows ice thickness.
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