Monthly Archives: April 2020

Svalbard at end of April again has 6th-7th highest sea ice extent & a lot of very thick ice

For the second time this month, sea ice around Svalbard Norway was the 6th or 7th highest since records began in the late 1960s. Pack ice at the end of April still surrounds Bear Island (Bjørnøya) at the southern end of the archipelago, which is a rare occurrence at this date. These conditions document a recurrent pattern of high ice extent and especially extreme ice thickness in the Barents Sea since last summer.

Bear island 8 March 2019_first bear seen since 2011_Bjørnøya Meteorological Station photo SVALBARDPOSTEN

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New report: Change coming to the Canadian Arctic — but it’s no looming catastrophe

A review of a newly-released (22 April 2020, on Earth Day) report commissioned by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the state of the Arctic seas published today in the National Post is a must read. It highlights the report’s emphasis that while the changes going on in our northern seas are indeed marked, they do not necessarily spell doom.

2019 DFO Arctic Report_Polar Bears from Summary document sent to media

Oddly, polar bears are primarily represented in the report by an overview account of the special case of Western Hudson Bay – an outlier among Canadian subpopulations – that puts special emphasis on the claimed decline in body condition blamed on recent sea ice changes that is not supported by any recent data (Crockford 2020).

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Coronavirus shutdown forces research project to miss critical start of Arctic ice melt

The worldwide coronavirus lockdown has meant that the MOSAiC research project, which deliberately froze the icebreaker Polarstern into the Arctic Sea ice last fall, will miss taking scientific measurements during several critical weeks of the melt season (one of the main reasons for the project).

Polarstern 2020 location as of April 27 to the North of Svalbard_Graphic_courtesy of AWI

According to a report in the High North News (28 April 2020), at 27 April the Polarstern was between Svalbard and the North Pole (map above). In mid-May, the ship will break out of the ice and proceed south to waters off Svalbard (expected to take about a week) to meet up with two German icebreakers for a high-seas exchange of crew and restock provisions, the only option available after the coronovirus lockdown in Svalbard meant the original plans had to be scuttled. And while waiting for the upcoming research upheaval and breaking free of the ice, the crew of the Polarstern recently reported a visit from a polar bear wandering the ice hunting for seals.

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Covid-19 in long term care homes reveal this virus is a low threat to the general public

Seattle, Washington was ground zero for Covid-19 in the US and most cases in Washington State (see image below) were known to be associated with long term care homes from the very beginning. This has turned out to be true virtually everywhere in the world. This means the risk of this coronavirus to the general population is even smaller than has been assumed by health advisors. However, because numbers of care home deaths and confirmed cases are inconsistently reported worldwide, governments almost everywhere have been reluctant to lift restrictions on movements of people who do not live or work in these well-defined hotspots of Covid-19 infection.

Seattle Times 18 April care home deaths vs community

I live in Victoria and travel to Seattle fairly often, in part because the cheapest and fastest way to Alaska and the rest of the US is via Seattle. Because of its physical proximity, I have kept a close eye on the virus situation in Seattle. In addition, a good friend of mine in Victoria had a relative in the Kirkland Life Care Centre in Seattle, which recorded one of the first deaths in the US. His ‘insider’ information tells us some interesting things about why long-term care facilities like these are being hit so hard by Covid-19. I thought it might be worth sharing what I’ve learned about this developing story.

UPDATE 25 April 2020: US Medicaid officials have summarized (as of April 23) Covid-19 deaths and confirmed cases in long term care facilities (by state) for those that report this data. They point out that until April 19, long term care homes were not required to report cases or deaths to the CDC and state [my bold]:

Our data collection effort finds that in the 23 states that publicly report death data as of April 23, 2020, there have been over 10,000 reported deaths due to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities (including residents and staff), representing 27% of deaths due to COVID-19 in those states. Our data also finds that there have been over 50,000 reported cases, accounting for 11% of coronavirus cases in 29 states. In six states reporting data, deaths in long-term care facilities account for over 50% of all COVID-19 deaths (Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Utah; Table 2)…The total cases and deaths from reporting states accounts for just over half (53%) of all cases, and 81% of all deaths. Given that not all states are reporting data yet and the continual lag in testing, the counts of cases and deaths are an undercount of the true number of cases and deaths in long-term care facilities.

Also, the State of Massachusetts is one of those that do report long-term care facility deaths and associated cases, pdf here for April 24.
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Earth Day surprise: video of fat polar bear on Arctic sea ice contains no false facts

Shot during the 2015 Arctic GEOTRACES expedition aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy. The lack of narrated misinformation makes this video suitable for young children.

This looks to be a different bear than the one I discussed in 2015 here but was undoubtedly taken on the same cruise, because reports at the time (August 2015) said that ‘several’ bears were spotted. Video attributed to ‘Bill Schmoker, PolarTrek teacher 2015’, launched on the Woods Hole Youtube channel 1 April 2020 (no other info provided).

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#Homeschooling2020: Polar Bear Facts & Myths is an excellent resource for learning a second language and prices have just been reduced

For all of those parents and grandparents struggling to keep school-aged kids occupied and learning while stuck at home during the coronavirus lock-down (and looking ahead to the summer months!), how about using my Polar Bear Facts & Myths book to practice a second language? The book is short (<800 words), the topic is compelling, and the text is simple. As well as the original English, it's also available in French, German, Norwegian, and Dutch – all translated from English by native speakers. Prices have now been reduced on all versions of this title and several others (note it has taken Amazon two weeks to implement these changes).

FM polar bear day 2017 graphic 1_crockford

Purchase two copies (one in your native language, the other in the language the child has been learning), and let them work their way through. This approach makes it easy for kids to tackle this task on their own. For Canadian kids who must take French, this is an excellent way to brush up on their French reading skills while learning about polar bears and the Arctic. Similarly, for a large number of European kids, it’s a chance to practice their English reading skills.

When they are done, you could 1) ask them to find a polar bear picture online and write a caption in their second language; 2) send me a question that the book hasn’t answered and I will respond on this blog, in English! Other links below.

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Useful relevant science: the bats behind the Covid-19 pandemic

This bit of mammalian science is worth a read, from biologist Matt Ridley’s blog, first published in the Wall Street Journal. And yes, a very few bat species do live above the Arctic Circle in North America and Eurasia but their distributions only overlap with polar bears in the most southern areas of the bear’s range (and none of the bats are the horseshoe variety that carry coronaviruses): along the coasts of southern Labrador and Hudson Bay, the north coast of Newfoundland, and in NW Alaska along the Bering Sea.

The Bats Behind the Pandemic (published 9 April 2020): From Ebola to Covid-19, many of the deadliest viruses to emerge in recent years have the same animal source.

Ridley horsebat

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