Tag Archives: Southern Beaufort

Current ice conditions don’t bode well for Beaufort Sea polar bears

Thick spring ice along the shore of the Eastern and Southern Beaufort is bad news for polar bears, especially females emerging from their dens with new cubs. Are those conditions developing now?

Beaufort Sea pressure ridges_Spring 1949 wikipedia sm

Every 10 years or so, since at least the 1960s, nearshore ice gets too thick for ringed seals to maintain their breathing holes and many breeding seals depart the area. This leaves a lot of polar bears without the baby seals they need to consume to get them through the rest of the year (that’s if they don’t (or can’t) leave themselves).

I’ve discussed various aspects of this phenomenon before, with references – see the list at the end of this post.

Sadly, we are on schedule for such conditions to recur – could be this year, could be next. The last time of heavy spring ice was 2004 and previous heavy ice conditions occurred the springs of 1964, 1974 (the worst), 1984, 1992 and 2004. The 2004-2006 event was reportedly almost as bad as the 1974-1976 event.

So, prompted by reports of the heaviest sea ice conditions on the East Coast “in decades” and news that ice on the Great Lakes is, for mid-April, the worst it’s been since records began, I took a close look at ice thickness charts for the Arctic. I’m not suggesting these conditions are necessarily related to Beaufort ice, just that they got me thinking.

Here’s a screencap of the US Navy ice thickness animation chart for yesterday [from WUWT Sea Ice Page]

Figure 1. Arctic Sea Ice Thickness (NRL), for April 18, 2014. Look at thick ice (yellow, 3.5-4.0 meters thick) spreading along the north coast of Alaska. See the 30 day animation here.

Figure 1. Arctic Sea Ice Thickness (NRL), for April 18, 2014. Look at thick ice (yellow, 3.5-4.0 meters thick) spreading along the north coast of Alaska. See the 30 day animation here.

Below is a similar image from about the same time last year, with the Southeast Beaufort Sea marked.

Figure 2. Arctic Sea Ice Thickness (NRL), for April 13, 2013. Southeastern Beaufort marked.

Figure 2. Arctic Sea Ice Thickness (NRL), for April 13, 2013. Southeastern Beaufort marked.

I don’t think this bodes well for Beaufort bears but we’ll have to wait and see if there are any reports of starving bears bit later this spring and summer. Sea ice charts aren’t a guarantee that this heavy spring ice phenomenon is developing in the Beaufort, but they could be a warning.

Below are archived ice thickness charts from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for some previous years when Beaufort bears had trouble, especially 2004-2006, with which I compare this year’s conditions. [h/t Steve Goddard for alerting me to this resource]

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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea: March map

Here is the March 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 March 2014 is copied below (Fig. 1).

Compare this to February’s map (Fig. 2) – you’ll be surprised at how little has changed!

Figure 1. Movements of 5 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of March, 2014. Polar bears were tagged in 2013 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 5 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Note that the dots with the polar bear icons are the end points (end March), while the other end of the string is their position in early March. These are the same 5 females that were present in January. Click to enlarge.

Figure 1. From original caption: “Movements of 5 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of March, 2014. Polar bears were tagged in 2013 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 5 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters.” Note that the dots with the polar bear icons are the end points (end March), while the other end of the string is their position in early March. These are the same 5 females that were present in January. Click to enlarge.

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Southern Beaufort polar bear ‘decline’ & reduced cub survival touted in 2008 was invalid, PBSG now admits

It is now clear that the phenomenon of bears moving across Southern Beaufort Seapbsg logo subpopulation boundaries compromised the US decision to list polar bears as ‘threatened’ and the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) knows that was the case.

As I pointed out last week, the PBSG has admitted in their 2013 status table update (pdf here) that bears move around so much between the Chukchi Sea (CS), the Southern Beaufort (SB), and the Northern Beaufort (NB) subpopulations that major changes in the boundaries of the SB subpopulation are necessary (see Fig. 1 below).

Figure 1. From the paper by Amstrup and colleagues (2005) describing the effect that movement of bears across subpopulation boundaries has on setting harvest quotas – and population estimates. Southern Beaufort boundary is solid red, Chukchi Sea is dashed yellow and Northern Beaufort is dotted light blue. “Point Barrow” is Barrow, AK (well inside the SB boundary). Click to enlarge.

Figure 1. From the paper by Amstrup and colleagues (2005) describing the effect that movement of bears across subpopulation boundaries has on setting harvest quotas and population estimates. Southern Beaufort (SB) boundary is solid red, Chukchi Sea (CS) is dashed yellow and Northern Beaufort (NB) is dotted light blue. “Point Barrow” is Barrow, AK (well inside the SB boundary). Click to enlarge.

Well, that’s not really news — changes to the SB boundaries were promised by the PBSG back in 2009 (Obbard et al. 2010), based on research by Steven Amstrup and colleagues published in 2001 and 2005. But now, in an astonishing admission, the PBSG have acknowledged that the last population survey for the SB (Regehr, Amstrup and Stirling, 2006), which appeared to register a decline in population size and reduced cub survival over time, did not take known movements of bears into account as it should have done.

In other words, that 2006 study almost certainly did not indicate bears dying due to reduced summer sea ice in the SB, as biologists said at the time — and which they presented as evidence that polar bears should be listed by the ESA as ‘threatened’ — but reflected capture of bears that were never part of the SB subpopulation and so moved out of the region.

As the PBSG said about the 2006 estimate:

“…it is important to note that there is the potential for un-modeled spatial heterogeneity in mark-recapture sampling that could bias survival and abundance estimates.” [my emphasis]

Spatial heterogeneity” means that the sampled bears could have come from more than one population, a possibility which violates a critical requirement of the statistics used to generate the population and survival estimates. “Un-modeled” means that the ‘movement of bears’ problem was not factored into the mathematical models that generated the 2006 population size and survival estimates as it should have been.

Ecologist Jim Steele pointed some of this out in his book and his guest post last year, so it’s not news that this was done.

What’s shocking is that the PBSG have now admitted that the ‘movement of bears’ issue essentially invalidates the 2006 population estimate and the much-touted ‘reduced survival of cubs.’ The reduced survival of cubs data from that SB study was a critical component of the argument that US bears were already being negatively impacted by global warming and thus, should be listed as ‘threatened’ under the ESA (US Fish & Wildlife Service 2008).

Since the population decline and reduced survival is now acknowledged to be unfounded — and perhaps deliberately so — I ask you this: will a new SB survey — soon to be released by the same lead author (Eric Regehr) — undo the broken trust in US and PBSG polar bear biologists? Continue reading

Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea: January map

Here is the January 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 January 2014 is copied below (Fig. 1).

Both the Southern Beaufort and the Chukchi Sea were completely ice-covered by the end of January. The seven bears tracked during November and December were reduced to five in January — down 50% from the ten bears collared in July.
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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea: December map

Here is the December 2013 follow-up to my post on the July 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 track map for December 2013 is copied below (Figure 1).

There has been little change from November: six of the bears that were being tracked in October were still present (down from ten in July) and one bear that went Arctic walkabout in October has returned and is still in the area. The same seven bears present in November were still being tracked in December but did not move very much. Continue reading

Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea: November map

Here is the November follow-up to my post on the July 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 track map for November is copied below (Figure 1).

By the end of November, ice covered the entire Alaska coast. Six of the bears that were being tracked in October were still present (down from ten in July) and one bear that went Arctic walkabout in October has returned. So, a total of seven bears were tracked in November.
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Polar bear researchers – are they protecting the bears or their own jobs?

Poor polar bear researchers: there are few full time jobs worldwide and research is underfunded.

This is not my opinion but the facts according to Andrew Derocher and Ian Stirling (2011) — see Fig. 1 and 2 below. I do not dispute them.

Figure 1. The distribution of full-time polar bear researchers worldwide. Graduate students carry out much of the field work, funded by research grants – but eventually, they are going to want full-time jobs too. Where will the money come from? From Derocher and Stirling 2011. Slide 8 from “Conservation status, monitoring, and information gaps.” Invited speaker presentation to the 2011 Polar Bear Meeting in Nunavut, USA contingent. Oct 24-26, 2011.

Figure 1. The distribution of full-time polar bear researchers worldwide. From Derocher and Stirling 2011, invited speaker presentation to the 2011 Polar Bear Meeting in Nunavut, Oct 24-26.

Figure 2. The sad state of polar bear research. From Derocher and Stirling 2011. Slide from “Conservation status, monitoring, and information gaps.” Invited speaker presentation to the 2011 Polar Bear Meeting in Nunavut, USA contingent. Oct 24-26, 2011.

Figure 2. The sad state of polar bear research. From Derocher and Stirling 2011, Invited speaker presentation to the 2011 Polar Bear Meeting in Nunavut, Oct 24-26.

Since Derocher and Stirling have raised the issue, I contend it’s perfectly valid to ask: are polar bear biologists who proclaim their heartfelt fear for the future of polar bears at every opportunity behaving as advocates for polar bears or protecting their own careers?

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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea: October map

Here is the October follow-up to my post on the July 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 track map for October is copied below (Figure 1).

By the end of October, ice reached the coast in several areas. The ten bears from July were down to seven – their collars might have stopped working or fallen off (most likely), they might have left the area entirely (also possible) or they might have died (the researchers don’t say which).
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Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea: September map

Here is the follow-up to my post on the July track map for 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 track map for September was posted on the USGS website on October 17 (delayed due to the US government shutdown) and is copied here below (Figure 1). The ice rebounded during the second half of the month (after the annual minimum was reached on September 13). The ten bears from July were down to eight – their collars might have stopped working or fallen off (most likely), they might have left the area entirely (also possible) or they might have died (the researchers don’t say which).

Figure 1. “Movements of 8 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of September, 2013. Polar bears were tagged in 2013 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 8 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters [i.e., all are females]. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with Ice Analysis charts from 26 August, 2013. Ice Analysis charts are made available by the National Ice Center. The land cover is made available by Natural Earth. Click on the above image to enlarge.” [Note that the dots with the polar bear icons are the end points (end September), while the other end of the string is their position in early September, indicating that the ice is now moving towards the shore. The pink dot present in August is almost entirely obscured by the purple dot, on shore in Alaska and the light brown dot is ashore on Banks Island, centre right of the map; two of the bears present in July (see Fig. 2 below) are no longer being tracked - their collars might have stopped working or fallen off (most likely), they might have left the area entirely (also possible) or they might have died. The researchers don’t say.] Click to enlarge

Figure 1. Original caption: “Movements of 8 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of September, 2013. Polar bears were tagged in 2013 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 8 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters [i.e., all are females]. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with Ice Analysis charts from 26 August, 2013. Ice Analysis charts are made available by the National Ice Center. The land cover is made available by Natural Earth. Click on the above image to enlarge.” [Note that the dots with the polar bear icons are the end points (end September), while the other end of the string is their position in early September, indicating that the ice is now moving towards the shore. The pink dot present in August is almost entirely obscured by the purple dot, which is overlapping the yellow dot on shore in Alaska; also, the light brown dot is on Banks Island, far right.]

It appears that of the eight polar bears still being followed by USGS researchers in September, four are on shore and four are still on the ice. Only time will tell if the four females on shore are pregnant and preparing maternity dens for the winter, but this seems the likely reason they are not on the ice with the others.

One very interesting point worth noting:
the one bear (light brown) captured onshore in the Southern Beaufort subpopulation region in the spring of 2013, has moved into the Northern Beaufort subpopulation region, on Banks Island (see map here), and may be denning there. This inter-subpopulation movement is relatively uncommon.

The map for July 2013 is below, for comparison: Continue reading

Kaktovik polar bears could be back on the ice this weekend

This is a quick follow up on my last post (here) on Kaktovik polar bears of the Southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation.

Kaktovik is the bright pink dot on the ice map below (October 3, 2013: click to enlarge), from the Canadian Ice Service – if the ice doesn’t get to the polar bears waiting on shore this weekend, it will be within swimming distance.

Note that this map doesn’t show the shorefast ice that is already forming along the beaches, bridging the gap between land and the offshore ice.

Shorefast ice provides the fall’s first ice platform for polar bears to hunt seals. It doesn’t need to be extensive for the bears to get out there — researchers working in Western Hudson Bay found that an ice concentration of only 10% marked the point when polar bears left the shore.

Kaktovik on CIS chart Oct 3 2013