Never mind that the sea ice maximum this year came almost a month later than last year (and close to latest since 1979) – and was lower by only .02 – the US National Sea Ice Data Center (NSIDC) today trumpeted a new record low. What this means to polar bears, if anything, remains to be seen.
2015: maximum set February 25 (day 56), at 14.54 mkm2
2016: maximum set March 24 (day 84), at 14.52 mkm2
[The difference in area? Smaller than the Islands of the Bahamas]
Latest maximum extent (since 1979) occurred in 2010 on April 2 (Day 92).
The average date for maximum extent is March 12.
I note, however, that given the lateness of the winter sea ice surge meant that the amount of ice present at 24 March 2016 (see NSIDC Interactive) was more than was present on the same date in 2006, 2007 and 2015.
Clearly, there was plenty enough sea ice in the spring of those years for most polar bears to hunt seals successfully and put on the weight they needed to survive the summer fast ahead. I see no reason to expect 2016 to be different.