Category Archives: Sea ice habitat

Experts’ vision of an ice-free summer is already wrong & benefitting polar bears

Polar bear populations in most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) must be booming, as they are elsewhere. That’s because the ‘experts’ were even more wrong in their predictions of future sea ice conditions than most people realize: they expected the CAA would remain choked with ice during a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer driven by human-caused global warming.


Wang and Overland 2012 fig 3b marked

Map presented by Wang and Overland (2012: Fig 3) shows what these experts thought a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer would look like, which they expected to occur by 2030 or so.

Look at the map from Wang and Overland (2012) above, which is what they thought a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer would look like in the year 2030 or so.

Wang and Overland used the same models used by USGS biologists to predict the future survival of polar bears based on habitat loss (Amstrup et al. 2007; Atwood et al. 2016; Durner et al. 2007, 2009). Note the thick ice in the CAA — what USGS experts call the ‘Archipelago’ sea ice ecoregion (denoted by white in the map), indicating ice about 1 metre thick (2-3 feet) — expected to remain at the height of summer in 2030.

[Earlier renditions of sea ice projections (e.g. ACIA 2005) show something similar. The second update of the ACIA released just yesterday (AMAP 2017, described here by the CBC) has prudently included no such firm predictions in their Summary for Policy Makers, just dire warnings of future catastrophe. But see the 2012 update.]

The problem is that ice in this region has been largely absent most summers since 2006, even though overall ice extent has been much more extensive than expected for a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer, as I show below.

This is not another “worse than we thought” moment (Amstrup et al. 2007) — this is sea ice models so wrong as to be useless: failed models used to inform future polar bear survival models that got the bears declared ‘threatened’ with extinction in the US in 2008 (Crockford 2017).

It also means polar bears are almost certainly doing much better than recent population counts indicate, since only one subpopulation out of the six in the CAA has recently been assessed but since polar bear specialists have consistently underestimated the adaptability of this species and the resilience of the Arctic ecosystem to respond to changing conditions, it’s hard to take any of their hyperbole about the future of polar bears seriously. Continue reading

Sea ice off Newfoundland thickest ever yet another polar bear comes ashore

Amid reports that ice conditions between Newfoundland and southern Labrador are the worst in living memory, another polar bear was reported ashore in the area — just after biologist Andrew Derocher explained to the CBC that bears only come on land when sea ice conditions “fail.”

Strait-of-belle-isle pack ice_April 19 2017_Nordik Relais

“Ice too thick for coast guard’s heavy icebreaker” said a 20 April 2017 CBC report on the state of ice in the Strait of Belle Isle. The pack is thick first year ice (four feet thick or more in places) and embedded with icebergs of much older, thicker ice. The ice packed along the northern shore of Newfoundland is hampering fishermen from getting out to sea and is not expected to clear until mid-May.

NASA Worldview shows the extent of the pack ice over northwest Newfoundland and southern Labrador on 19 April 2017 (the Strait of Belle Isle is the bit between the two):

Newfoundland Labrador sea ice 19 April 2017 NASA Worldview

The same day that the above satellite image was taken (19 April), at the north end of the Strait on the Newfoundland side, a polar bear was spotted in a small community northwest of St. Anthony (marked below,  “Wildberry Country Lodge” at Parker’s Brook). It’s on the shore of north-facing Pistolet Bay on the Great Northern Peninsula, near the 1000 year old Viking occupation site of L’Anse aux Meadows.

Parkers Brook location on Pistolet Bay

There were no photos of the Parker’s Brook bear but lots of others have been taken this year of almost a dozen seen along Newfoundland shorelines since early March: see my recently updated post, with an updated map of reported sightings. Harp seals are now abundant in the pack ice of southern Davis Strait, providing polar bears with an ample source of food when they need it most and therefore, a strong attractant to the area.

St brendan's bear 01 VOCM report 5 April 2017 Tracy Hynes

Yet, as I reported yesterday, polar bear specialist Andrew Derocher told the CBC this week that polar bears are almost always “forced” ashore by poor ice conditions. The CBC report included his tweet from 10 April, where he suggested “failed” Newfoundland ice conditions were the cause of multiple bears onshore in Newfoundland this year.

Similar thick ice conditions off northern Newfoundland (perhaps even worse) occurred in 2007, see Twillingate in the spring of 2007 below:

Twillingate-heavy ice-20070523_2007 CBC David Boyd photo

Yet, in 2007 there was not a single polar bear reported onshore in Newfoundland (as far as I am aware) but this year there were almost a dozen. And the photos taken this year show fat, healthy bears – not animals struggling to survive.

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Still lots of East Coast sea ice but prof tells CBC it doesn’t bode well for polar bears

Davis Strait polar bears around Newfoundland and Labrador are currently experiencing what one polar bear specialist refers to as “failed” sea ice conditions, causing bears to come ashore in droves. I’m not making this up.

Sea ice extent Canada 2017 April 21 CIS

The ice was so thick in the Strait of Belle Isle between Newfoundland and southern Labrador last week that a ferry was stuck for 24 hours and had to be rescued by an icebreaker.

The boats of fisherman on the north shore of Newfoundland are stuck in thick ice that’s not expected to clear until mid-May at the earliest and they can’t get out to fish.

boats-in-ice-near-twillingate_CBC_19 April 2017

See this video posted on Twitter two days ago.

The same thing (perhaps even worse) happened in 2007, see Twillingate in the spring of 2007 below:

Twillingate-heavy ice-20070523_2007 CBC David Boyd photo

Yet, in 2007 there was not a single polar bear reported onshore in Newfoundland (as far as I am aware) but this year there were almost a dozen. And the photos show fat, healthy bears – not animals struggling to survive.

East Coast March April polar bear sightings 2017 V3_9 April

According to Andrew Derocher, that’s proof “failed” sea ice is the reason that polar bears came ashore this year but not last year (when there was also lots of ice in late March/early April, see additional maps and graphs below). Last year there were sightings in the middle of winter (January/February) in Labrador and Newfoundland (which I reported here) and one bear was shot in Newfoundland in early May when he advanced on local RCMP officers.

I think Derocher believes he’s set the record straight by offering an interview of his own to refute the things I said to the CBC last week (I talked on two Newfoundland radio stations, which generated a print CBC article). But Newfoundlanders have to deal with used car salesmen just like the everyone else, so I expect they are having a good laugh right now at the expert who’s blaming their polar bear troubles on a lack of sea ice.
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Global polar bear population size is about 28,500 when updates are included

Polar bear numbers have risen since 2005, no matter how you look at it:

Svalbard polar bear Jon Aars_Norsk Polarinstitutt

USGS estimated 24,500 (average) polar bears in 2005.

IUCN estimated 26,500 (average of 22,000-31,000) in 2015
(assessment completed in July, released in November).

Subpopulation surveys completed or reported after July 2015 (Baffin Bay, Kane Basin, Barents Sea) added ~2,000 bears.

This brings the adjusted average total at 2015 to ~28,500.

Crockford 2017_Slide 12 screencap

Explained in full in this published paper, pgs 20-21:

Crockford, S.J. 2017 V3. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 2 March 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3 Open access.


East Coast crawling with polar bears since early March thanks to the pack ice

The  hot polar bear news right now is the large number of sightings of bears onshore in Newfoundland and Labrador – even the CBC is impressed.

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 02_2017 April 3_Brandon Collins shared photo The Packet

Photo taken by Brandon Collins in Melrose (on the Trinity Bay side of the peninsula) Monday 3 April 2017

All the bears have been brought to land by the abundant pack ice that’s been present off Labrador and northern Newfoundland (the territory of Davis Strait polar bears), which also killed a humpback whale that got trapped against the north shore (a not unusual event, apparently).

Mapping the reports of polar bear sightings since early March helped me get a handle on the total number of encounters: more than a dozen, it turns out.  There have been a few bear sightings in this region every year recently but such high numbers are remarkable, especially so early in the season. When will it end?

Increased numbers of bears in the population is one explanation for increased numbers of encounters onshore at this time of year, although recent storms may have encouraged more bears than usual to come ashore in Newfoundland.

My picture annotated map and a list of sighting reports, with links, is below but stay tuned: this story may not be over yet.

UPDATE 4 April: more photos and sea ice maps added below.

UPDATE 5 April: another sighting, in St. Brendan’s (west of Bonavista), added to the map below and quotes from one witness. The map is now Version 2. A sea ice map for 5 April has also been added at the end of the post.

UPDATE 9 April: another sighting and a bear casualty, see below. Map revised again.

UPDATE 14 April: CBC Newfoundland article (12 April: Highway of ice: Easy route for polar bears chasing food, prof says) based on my radio interview that aired 11 April.

UPDATE 22 April: Another sighting west of St. Anthony on Wednesday, 19 April has been added to the map (now Version 4) and an alert that I’ve added a new post (21 April) about the claim by one vocal polar bear specialist that all of these sightings are the result of “failed” sea ice conditions off Newfoundland and Labrador this year (seriously, I’m not making this up). I’ve added the most recent ice map at the end of this post.
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Late winter polar bear habitat 2017 vs. 2006 and 2011 shows no trend

Here is a bit of historical perspective for rational readers trying to make sense of the doom-mongering of others that current sea ice conditions spell trouble for polar bears, given that the winter maximum extent for 2017 reached a new seasonal low (keeping in mind that NSIDC does not publish error bars for these measurements, which helps elevate such pronouncements to “news”).

Ice extent (courtesy NSIDC’s MASIE) at 25 March (Day 84) is below for 2017, 2011 and 2006, almost 3 weeks after the winter maximum was declared at 7 March for 2017, 9 March for  2011, and 12 March for 2006. Extent at the maximum for 2006 was estimated at 14.68 mkm2, 14.42 mkm2 for 2017, and 14.67 mkm2 in 2011 (what tiny differences make headlines these days).

Remember: there are no polar bears in the Sea of Okhotsk or in the Baltic Sea (marked with an * below) yet ice in those regions is included in the Arctic totals used to determine maximum seasonal extent. Much (and sometimes, all) of the “Arctic” variation in extent at this time of year is accounted for by variation in Sea of Okhotsk and Baltic Sea coverage.

Sea ice day 84 March 25 2017_2011_2006 labeled

Bottom line: total winter ice extent for the Arctic ≠ winter polar bear habitat and neither have changed much in a decade.

See close up of the above graphic below.

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Another fat bear onshore in late winter, along Gulf of St. Lawrence north coast

Another fat bear onshore in late winter, this time along the Quebec shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence (22 March 2017) – and this time, one of the witnesses to the sighting took some great photos. Courtesy CBC News (Polar bear makes rare appearance on Quebec’s Lower North Shore 24 March 2017).

Gulf St Lawrence North shore PB visit 22 March 2017_CBC headline

Quotes, location map, and sea ice charts below.

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