Monthly Archives: January 2014

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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Polar bear female with cubs fights off adult male – photos from W Hudson Bay

Discovery News ran a photo feature yesterday (January 28, 2014), courtesy Mike Lockhart from Polar Bears International, of an interesting incident Lockhart witnessed while was working with a government (Manitoba Conservation) research team surveying bears of Western Hudson Bay in the fall of 2013.

Figure 1. Female with 2 cubs turns on an adult male (far right) that she had been happily feeding with moments before. Mike Lockhart photo, Polar Bears International and Discovery News.

Figure 1. Female with 2 cubs turns on an adult male (far left) that she had been happily feeding with moments before. This is the 3rd photo in the sequence; see description and photo 4 below. Mike Lockhart photo, Polar Bears International, Discovery News story.

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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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Churchill polar bears eat more caribou and geese now than in 1968 because there are more caribou and geese, new research reveals

The press release (pdf here) issued by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) a few days ago, regarding several recent papers on polar bear consumption of terrestrial foods around Churchill, Manitoba (Western Hudson Bay), left a lot to be desired in terms of relaying accurate information.

Recent research on polar bear diets by Robert Rockwell and Linda Gormezano, it says, suggests that an increase in the consumption of caribou and snow geese since 1968 is a sign that the polar bears are nutritionally stressed due to recent sea ice changes in spring (blamed on global warming) but may be adapting by changing their summer/fall diet.

As the AMNH press release puts it:

polar bears in the warming Arctic are turning to alternate food sources.”

Figure 1. Polar bear feeding on a caribou carcass, taken July 26, 2010. This photo was included in one of the papers cited in the January 2014 press release (Gormezano and Rockwell 2013:3518) and was clearly taken from the air. The caption in the paper says simply, “a polar bear looks up from the recently killed caribou it was eating,” so the bear may not have killed the caribou – some other predator (wolf or grizzly) may have made the actual kill. The dark spots on the bear appear to be flies. Credit Copyright American Museum of Natural History/ R. Rockwell.

Figure 1. Polar bear feeding on a caribou carcass, taken July 26, 2010, from the air. This photo was included in virtually all media reports and in Gormezano and Rockwell (2013a:3518, Fig. 3). The caption in the paper says, “a polar bear looks up from the recently killed caribou it was eating,” implying the bear may not have actually killed the caribou – some other predator (wolf or grizzly) may have made the kill. The dark spots on the bear appear to be flies. Credit: Copyright American Museum of Natural History/R. Rockwell.

However, the AMNH press release fails to mention – as the papers it publicizes certainly do – that Western Hudson Bay populations of caribou and snow geese have increased exponentially since a similar polar bear diet study was done in 1968/69. In other words, there were hardly any caribou or geese around back in the late 60s — little wonder polar bears weren’t eating any.

While evidence of polar bears consuming caribou and geese in recent years is certainly an “increase” over late 1960s levels, that fact says more about the status of caribou and geese populations than it does about polar bears and global warming. Media outlets that quoted the press release verbatim, as many do these days (e.g. here, here, and here), missed this essential part of the story – and of course, so did their readers.

[one story picked up the goose population increase and another revealed the caribou population increase, but none that I saw caught both]

In addition, the AMNH press release makes this erroneous statement that was picked up by every media outlet I saw except one (either exactly as written or reworded slightly):

Climate warming is reducing the availability of their ice habitat, especially in the spring when polar bears gain most of their annual fat reserves by consuming seal pups before coming ashore for the summer.” [my bold]

This is flat-out wrong: sea ice declines have been minimal in spring The earliest breakup dates since 1991 for Western Hudson Bay, where this research was done, have been mid-June (according to the most recent study by Cherry et al. 2013) and for the last few years breakup has occurred in July. Spring in the Arctic is March-May; summer is June-August. This error appears to have come from authors, Robert Rockwell and Linda Gormezano, as I show below. Is this just sloppy writing or deliberate misinformation?

Overall, the press release and resulting media reports seem to be further examples of hyping global warming at the expense of the actual science involved and I have to agree with Andrew Derocher’s interpretation of the significance of terrestrial food items for polar bears. See what you think.
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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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Amstrup repeats starving polar bear nonsense, features “Ursus bogus”

As if on cue just before an important polar bear announcement, Steven Amstrup, full time employee of Polar Bears International (PBI), is crying “starving polar bears” yet again, with a laughable twist.

Over at “The Conversation” (a university supported forum for academics), in a piece titled “Cold weather in the US no solace for starving polar bears,” Amstrup uses his adjunct affiliation at University of Wyoming to unleash a bit of unpaid advertising for PBI’s alarmist message (I put it this way because while Amstrup  does disclose his affiliation at PBI, he is more than just an affiliated member, he is their paid spokesperson).

Ironically, the headline photo (Fig. 1) is the notorious “Ursus bogus,” the photoshopped image used by the journal Science back in May 2010 to feature an article on the integrity of science, It was quickly exposed by Tim Blair at The Telegraph (also covered at WUWT), and the journal was obliged to acknowledge the error, replace the image and issue a correction.

In this case, commenter Brad Keyes at The Conversation defends the use of the “Ursus bogus” image with this astonishing statement [UPDATE Jan. 25/14: it has since transpired that this was almost certainly meant to be satire]:

The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’—and readers’—attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.

Figure 1. The headline photo from Steven Amstrup’s article at The Conversation. This infamous “Ursus bogus” image (for sale at IStock photos, listed under “Global warming images”), says “This image is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now.”

Figure 1. The headline photo from Steven Amstrup’s article at The Conversation. This infamous “Ursus bogus” image (for sale at IStock photos, listed under “Global warming images), says “This image is a photoshop design. Polarbear, ice floe, ocean and sky are real, they were just not together in the way they are now.”

However, we now know that Amstrup is crying wolf — summer sea ice has been declining despite a hiatus in global warming and unusual numbers of polar bears are not starving. He seems to think that if he keeps repeating his Chicken Little message (with nary a recent photo of an actual starving polar bear) he will convince more people to believe him and donate to PBI. It’s his job to do so of course, so he’s not likely to stop. [pardon my mixed metaphor – Amstrup, if you recall, prefers a Titanic metaphor]
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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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The scientific abomination that is the “Circumpolar Monitoring Framework for Polar Bears”

I keep coming across mentions of a grandiose plan for future polar bear research and conservation called the “Circumpolar Monitoring Framework for Polar Bears.”

This “framework” plan was referred to extensively at the recent International Polar Bear Forum (aka the “Meeting of the Parties” that signed the 1973 conservation treaty) held in Moscow, December 3-6, 2013 (see posts about the meeting here, here, and here). In fact, government representatives of all Arctic nations present at that meeting agreed in principle to support the proposed plan.

No media reports that I’ve come across after the Moscow polar bear meeting explained what the “monitoring framework” involved, so I’ve composed a brief summary and commentary, aided by some images from Dag Vongraven’s presentation in Moscow (Vongraven 2013; pdf here).

In short, Arctic government representatives at the Moscow forum agreed that all future polar bear research should be constrained by the premise that increases in global temperatures over the next century will occur exactly as predicted by climate models and will negatively affect polar bears precisely as predicted by models devised by polar bear biologists. Under the plan, subpopulations that are already showing predicted effects of global warming will get the bulk of research funds, while regions that are paradoxically not responding as predicted will get much less money for research and survey efforts. 

This strategy proposes a coordinated research plan that is blatantly agenda-driven: implementing it would seriously compromise the usefulness of all research results generated for decades to come. I don’t think it’s anything close to being a scientifically valid plan, but decide for yourself. 

Figure 1. Vongraven 2013, Slide 1.

Figure 1. Vongraven 2013, Title slide.

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Polar bear gives birth in Munich zoo, with photos and video

Fabulous photos of 3 week old twin polar bear cubs (born December 9, 2013), have been released by the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Germany. There’s video of the births as well. The newborn cubs are so tiny  — it’s hard to imagine them being born in the dead of winter in a snow den!

PB newborn with mother Munich Zoo Dec 2013

All but one of the photos shown here, including the one above, are of the newborns at 3 weeks of age. The one below is a screen cap taken from the video of the birth, and is the only one that shows the cubs just hours old. They seem to have grown a bit in 3 weeks.

PB newborns birth_11PolarBearTwins2_Zoo screen cap

From this January 1, 2014 account (Hellabrunn Zoo Welcomes Polar Bear Twins”):

“On December 9, a Polar Bear named Giovanna gave birth to two cubs at Munich’s Hellabrunn Zoo. Both births were seen on cameras installed in the birthing den and the connecting corridor to the main den. This is remarkable on two counts: for both births, Giovanna positioned herself so that she was directly in the cameras’ field of view. Secondly, this is the first time that a Polar Bear birth has been filmed in color worldwide!

The cubs were born at 08:39 and 09:43 respectively, to parents Giovanna (7) and Yogi (14). The zoo’s director, Dr. Andreas Knieriem, enthused, “It is as if we were there live watching the labour and birth of a Polar Bear and, as if that weren’t enough, Giovanna showed us not one, but two very different births!”

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Polar bears in winter: starving bears and attacks on humans

Winter in the Arctic can be a tough time for polar bears. Between the cold, darkness and ever-thickening sea ice with fewer open leads, polar bears often find that seals are hard to come by.

So it should not be surprising to find out that polar bears are at their lowest body weight at the end of winter (Ramsay and Stirling 1988:613; Stirling 2002:68).

In other words, polar bears lose weight over the winter – not just during the ice-free summer period. That’s why the spring and early summer feeding period is so critical: gorging on young seals rebuilds the polar bears’ fat reserves lost over the winter and packs on even more fat to tide them over the late summer/early fall ice-free period.

Last fall, a potentially serious attack by a polar bear on a Churchill, Manitoba resident on Hallowe’en night (early hours of November 1) got a lot of attention worldwide. Some media outlets suggested that the bear involved in this attack was either starving or so hungry that he was driven to attack. However, this assertion was not supported by any evidence — we simply don’t know whether he was in poor condition or not. While the bear was undoubtedly leaner at the end of October than he was in July, that doesn’t mean he was actually ‘starving.’

So, here’s the question: given that polar bears have a tough time finding seals to eat during the dark and cold Arctic winter and are presumably at their hungriest then, do serious polar bear attacks on humans also happen in winter?
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