Tag Archives: Arctic

Arctic sea ice tipping point nonsense at COP27 refuted by last seven years of data

David Attenborough and his cronies at Netflix devoted an entire documentary last year (‘Breaking Boundaries‘) on the nonsense notion that the world is facing a dire ‘tipping point’ where calamity is inevitable, with the Arctic being ‘Ground Zero’ for these effects. However, their sea ice model has already been falsified by the last seven years of data.

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Polar bear habitat update: ice forming along Hudson Bay, Wrangel & Franz Josef Islands surrounded

Western Hudson Bay polar bears near Churchill will be able to leave shore within days, at most one week later than in the 1980s, although you wouldn’t know that from the climate change activists at Polar Bears International who have spent the last week promoting some egregiously false and misleading statements. PBI controls the narrative surrounding Western Hudson Bay bears through their partnership with the biggest polar bear tourist outfits in Churchill and online.

Yesterday, it was “See how the climate crisis is changing their world”.

Developing no slower than it did in 2007 (16 years of no change), Arctic sea ice is providing polar bears in southern regions with their second-most critical feeding opportunities while in areas like Wrangel Island and Franz Josef Land, they now have easy access to and from important summer refuge/maternity denning islands. And contrary to predictions of increased ‘conflict’ between polar bears and people around Churchill, there have been fewer problem bear reports there in recent years, this year included. In other words, there is no ‘climate crisis’ for polar bears, even in Western Hudson Bay, and recent models of a dire future for polar bears are based on totally implausible worst-case climate scenarios. Sea ice loss since 1979 has been so gradual that polar bears have been able to adapt, either through natural selection or changes in behaviour.

UPDATE 12 November 2022. One of the independents on the ground near Churchill had this to say about the bears and freeze-up conditions this year:

“Bears started leaving on November 10; conservation emptied the jail on the 10th as well.”

[the 10th was the day this post was originally published; ‘the jail’ is the Churchill Polar Bear Alert Program’s ‘holding facility’, see report below]. This information suggests the average date for bears leaving shore will likely turn out to be 12-14 November, again earlier than the average for the 1980s (16 Nov +/- 5 days). There may still be a few bears on the shore of Wapusk National Park that seem to be in no hurry to leave, but a few stragglers doesn’t mean there isn’t ice available for hunting.

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Polar bear no closer to extinction than it was 18 years ago as Arctic sea ice resists ‘tipping point’

All predictions of disaster aside, in fact the polar bear is no closer to extinction than it was in 2005 as Arctic sea ice again steadfastly resists slipping past a catastrophic ‘tipping point’ — or the ‘death spiral’, as some chicken-littles continue to call it.

In fact, the summer sea ice trend has been pretty much flat since 2007, with ice covering about 42% less area than it had done in 1979, yet polar bears in many regions are doing better now than they were in 2005, especially in Davis Strait, the Barents and Chukchi Seas and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

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How to build an igloo: was the snow house designed in part to protect against polar bears?

When I came across this fascinating National Film Board video from 1949 on how to build an igloo, it reminded me of a conversation I had with a colleague about whether the design of the Inuit snow house was originally developed in part as protection against marauding polar bears?

Such a dome of tightly-fitted snow blocks, when properly consolidated with a thin layer of ice inside, must have been virtually impenetrable to even the hungriest bears – and defendable at the narrow entrance tunnel. The image below is from Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island around 1865, which lies within the boundaries of the Davis Strait subpopulation of polar bears.

A link to ‘How to Build an Igloo‘ is included in my free ‘Arctic Sea Ice Ecosystem Teaching Guide‘ for home schooling found here. The igloo film is 10 minutes long and suitable for all ages.

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Sea ice growth after the summer minimum begins in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

The Arctic sea ice minimum was declared to have been reached on 16 September this year (4.72 mkm2), breaking no records.

Ice extent can only go up from this point forward but at this time of year, it happens slowly and isn’t noticeable in the Arctic Basin as much as it is in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. As I wrote about last year, new ice development in the fall next to shore creates upwelling conditions that attract fish and seals, and therefore provides feeding opportunities for polar bears.

The same process likely happens when new ice forms next to old ice. These few weeks of developing sea ice, wherever they occur, are the last chance polar bears have to replace weight lost over the summer before the cold and darkness of winter reduces hunting opportunities to virtually nil.

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My new science book for kids Walrus Facts & Myths is available now!

I am thrilled announce that my new science book for kids, Walrus Facts & Myths is now available for sale on Amazon. This unique book fills an enormous need.

Thanks to media reports and television documentaries – here’s looking at you David Attenborough – many children around the world have been led to believe that walrus are dying in large numbers every year because of reduced sea ice. This has left kids feeling despondent and powerless. The relentless messaging that walrus are doomed (and that it’s all the fault of humans burning fossil fuels) is fortunately false. It’s time the children learned the truth and now, there’s a book for that!

This is a walrus science book for kids with lots of great photos and a format that readers of all ages will enjoy.

In the US, find it here and in Canada here.

In the UK, find it here. And if you want to know more, there is a review by Kip Hansen posted at WUWT.

My nonfiction book for adults Fallen Icon: David Attenborough and the Walrus Deception, will be released in a few weeks but here is a science book just for the kids. If the children in your life enjoyed Polar Bear Facts & Myths, I’m sure they’ll love this one too. The colour photos are beautiful and engaging. It’s also perfect for homeschoolers wanting to learn about Arctic ecology and walrus life history.

Walrus Facts & Myths is available in paperback and ebook formats.

Polar bear habitat update for end July 2021 compared to previous years

Here’s a trip down memory lane for Arctic sea ice at the end of July, which as far as I can see provides no evidence that a very low sea ice disaster is in the cards for polar bears this year.

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Surprising sea ice thickness across the Arctic is good news for polar bears

This year near the end of May the distribution of thickest sea ice (3.5-5m/11.5-16.4 ft – or more) is a bit surprising, given that the WMO has suggested we may be only five years away from a “dangerous tipping point” in global temperatures. There is the usual and expected band of thick ice in the Arctic Ocean across northern Greenland and Canada’s most northern islands but there are also some patches in the peripheral seas (especially north of Svalbard, southeast Greenland, Foxe Basin, Hudson Strait, Chukchi Sea, Laptev Sea). This is plenty of sea ice for polar bear hunting at this time of year (mating season is pretty much over) and that thick ice will provide summer habitat for bears that choose to stay on the ice during the low-ice season: not even close to an emergency for polar bears.

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Late fall polar bear habitat 2020 compared to some previous years

It’s time to look at sea ice habitat at 15 December (Julian Day 350), now that virtually all bears except pregnant females throughout the Arctic are either out on the sea ice attempting to hunt for seals or hunkered down against the darkness.

As is usual at this time of year, the Canadian Archipelago, the Beaufort, East Siberian and Laptev Seas are well covered in ice (see regions on map below). As for the rest, despite what one polar bear specialist has implied there is no evidence that a slower-than-usual fall freeze-up in the other peripheral seas of the Arctic negatively affects polar bear health or survival.

In fact, because of the attractiveness of the ice edge for seals in the fall, as I discussed last month, it’s possible that the longer the ice edge persists in fall, the more successful polar bears will be in hunting seals – except those above the Arctic Circle where lack of daylight from early November may cause polar bears to hunker down and rest rather than try to hunt through the darkness. But we’ll never know for sure, because bears have never been studied at this time of year – experts simply make assumptions about what happens (e.g. Stirling and Oritsland 1995).

Sea ice thickness also varies year to year throughout the season but does not matter much to polar bears, who hunt most successfully in first year ice less than 2m in thickness, which comprises all of the regions currently purple in the ice thickness chart below.

Hudson Bay

This year at mid-December, there was more ice than usual in central and southern Hudson Bay (below) and somewhat less than usual in the eastern portion.

However, the ice is forming so fast now that by 18 December there was hardly any open water remaing over Hudson Bay and the ice to the north was solidifying (below). Recall that a similar freeze-up pattern left a pod of a dozen or so killer whales stranded in mid-January 2013 and killed four others in 2016. Such ice-entrapment suggests that despite a ‘warming’ Arctic, freeze-up patterns would have to change very dramatically for Hudson Bay to be an attractive place for killer whales. A recent DFO report concluded:

Killer whale ice entrapments are almost always fatal and can wipe out entire family groups, with long-lasting demographic impacts. Ice entrapments could therefore slow Arctic killer whale range expansions, particularly in areas where killer whales that are unfamiliar with sea-ice patterns fail to exit prior to ice formation in winter.

Compare Hudson Bay weekly stage of development charts (below) for this year back to 2014, from the Canadian Ice Service archives. You’ll see that this year appears to have more extensive 1st year ice (light green, ca. 30-70 cm) than any other year (although last year had almost as much) and that 2016 was notable as being a very late freeze-up year:

Western Hudson Bay polar bears with collars or tags deployed by Andrew Derocher and his University of Alberta crew (below) are spread out over the ice of the bay (two on land are denning females), a number are on the thickest ice in the north but others are on thinner ice to the south and east:

Baffin Bay, foxe basin, and Davis Strait

Ice covereage in the Canadian Eastern Arctic at mid-December is about average this year, according to CIS charts – only a bit of red and pink indicating ‘below normal’ in the east (off of Greenland):

Pack ice has moved down from the north through Baffin Bay into Davis Strait (below) and will soon be off the coast of Labrador, which has somewhat less ice than usual this year at mid-December:

The ice off Labrador at this time is shorefast ice developing and thickening in place (below). As far as we know, few polar bears summer on the northern Labrador coast, so this late ice development is unlikely to affect local bears. However, pack ice will move down during January and February until it engulfs the area north of Newfoundland, bringing some polar bears with it.

Greenland and Barents Sea

Freeze-up in the Greenland Sea is progressing a bit faster than usual for the last five years (below), but not remarkably so:

Ice cover in the Barents Sea (below) has been slow so far but has been progressing faster over the last few weeks. There is now ice off the east coast of Novaya Zemlya, shorefast ice that should allow any bears summering there to hunt for seals just as Western Hudson Bay bears do during early freeze-up stages. Within the next few weeks, the Arctic pack ice will move south into the Kara Sea, allowing bears to move more freely.Ice off Svalbard has been much below normal (below), as it has been for years now, which is why virtually all Barents Sea pregnant females currently make maternity dens in Franz Josef Land or on the sea ice to the north. These alternative areas for safely giving birth is the primary reason that the much reduced sea ice around Svalbard in recent years has not impacted Barents Sea polar bear health or survival.

Kara Sea

Ice cover in the Kara Sea at 15 December (below) is lower compared to the last five years but it’s unclear how much effect this will have on local polar bears.

Animals that have opted to spend the ice-free season on Novaya Zemlya or on the Russian mainland will have had a long wait for ice, but those that spent the summer on the Severnya Zemlya archipelago to the east had access to sea ice before the end of November. There has been no word from Belushaya Guba on whether the polar bear problems they had because of poorly maintained garbage dumps in December 2018 that went on until February 2019 have recurred this year.

Despite what Andrew Derocher claims (below), there is no evidence that slightly less sea ice in the fall is detrimental to polar bear health or survival in the Kara Sea or elsewhere. It is possible that it might but no one has studied it, so to suggest that low sea ice cover is ‘trouble’ for polar bears at this time of year is very misleading.

Chukchi/Bering Sea

Sea ice cover over the Chukchi Sea is a bit lower than it has been over the last few years, about as low as it was in 2017 (below).

Chukchi Sea polar bears at 14 December (below) had abundant sea ice habitat.

In 2016, when Chukchi polar bears were counted for the first time, there was a similar amount of ice at this time of year (below):

References

Stirling, I. and Øritsland, N. A. 1995. Relationships between estimates of ringed seal (Phoca hispida) and polar bear (Ursus maritimus) populations in the Canadian Arctic. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 52: 2594 – 2612. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/f95-849#.VNep0y5v_gU

Speculation on ice-trapped whales: science-based fiction vs. dishonest science

Ice entrapment of whales is known to happen across the Arctic, including Davis Strait and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. How common such phenomena were in the past or might be in the future are subjects of conjecture. However, while speculation is the bread-and-butter of science-based fiction, it is the bane of peer-reviewed science.

I’ve written two novels informed by science set a bit in the future (2025-2026) in Eastern Canada: EATEN was set in Newfoundland and my latest book UPHEAVAL –see a review here – is set in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. In UPHEAVAL, one of the issues I explore is ice entrapment of large whales, like North Atlantic right whales. I speculate in the story whether carcasses of ice-killed whales might provide a powerful enough attraction to lure Davis Strait polar bears down from Labrador and the Strait of Belle Isle into the Gulf of St. Lawrence – and if they did, what might be the repercussions of that shift in distribution.

Here I argue that a novel is the appropriate place for this kind of speculation and researchers who offer such conjecture to the public in a way that conflates a science-informed guess with evidence-based fact risks eroding public trust in science.

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