Tag Archives: Chukchi

Spring feeding season almost over for polar bears & sea ice becomes less important

Here are ice conditions at the end of May, which signals the near-end of the critical spring feeding period for polar bears. This is because young-of-the-year seals take to the water to feed themselves, leaving only predator-savvy adults and subadults on the ice from some time in June onward (depending on the region).

masie_all_zoom_4km 2020 May 31_Day 152

Spring is the critical feeding period for polar bears (Crockford 2019, 2020; Lippold et al. 2020; Obbard et al. 2016):

“Unexpectedly, body condition of female polar bears from the Barents Sea has increased after 2005, although sea ice has retreated by ∼50% since the late 1990s in the area, and the length of the ice-free season has increased by over 20 weeks between 1979 and 2013. These changes are also accompanied by winter sea ice retreat that is especially pronounced in the Barents Sea compared to other Arctic areas. Despite the declining sea ice in the Barents Sea, polar bears are likely not lacking food as long as sea ice is present during their peak feeding period. Polar bears feed extensively from April to June when ringed seals have pups and are particularly vulnerable to predation, whereas the predation rate during the rest of the year is likely low. [Lippold et al. 2019:988]

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As polar bear populations fail to decline with sea ice, message of doom intensifies

If 10 years of summer sea ice levels expected to kill 2/3 of the world’s polar bears by 2050 hasn’t had an impact, why would anyone expect a bit less summer ice will do the job?


The more the polar bears fail to die in droves, the shriller the message from activist polar bear researchers – via willing media megaphones – that the great death of the bears will soon be upon us, just you wait and see!

Some big media guns were out this past week spreading the prophesy of doom fed to them by the polar bear researchers most committed to the “threatened with extinction” narrative: The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian. The desperation is becoming palpable as the public catches on to their epic failure.

In 2007, the sea ice dropped to a level the experts said wouldn’t be reached until mid-century, and since then, it has remained at that low level (about 3-5mkm2, give or take some measuring error). And in 2007, US Geological Survey (USGS) biologists said with absolute confidence that when sea ice levels reached that point, 2/3 of the world’s polar bears would be gone.

No bears at all would remain, they said, in Western Hudson Bay (the Churchill bears), Southern Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin, Davis Strait, Baffin Bay, Southern Beaufort, Chukchi Sea, Barents Sea, Kara Sea, and the Laptev Sea:  ten out of 19 subpopulations would be extirpated if sea ice levels in most years dropped to the summer lows in the 3-5 mkm2 range.

On the basis of that prediction, polar bears were declared ‘threatened’ with extinction by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

But nothing of the kind happened. There are still lots of polar bears – and not even struggling-to-survive bears but lots of fat healthy bears everywhere across the Arctic, in what were considered by USGS biologists to be the most vulnerable regions of all: Western Hudson Bay (i.e., Churchill), Chukchi Sea and Southern Beaufort (Alaska) and the Barents Sea (Norway).

This is the truth the world needs to hear: the experts were wrong. Polar bears have not been driven to the brink of extinction by climate change, they are thriving. This is the message of each of my two new books (one of which is appropriate for kids of all ages, see the sidebar).

In turns out that polar bears are much more resilient to changing levels of sea ice than data collectors assume and the proof is in the current healthy populations everywhere. Continue reading

Tracking polar bears in the Beaufort Sea in July & sea ice comparison with 2007/2012

Only four Alaskan polar bear females had USGS satellite collars left transmitting locations in the Beaufort Sea and all four of these bears were on the ice during July, 2016. The same was true in June and May.

Beaufort tracking USGS bear-movements-July 2016 sm

Original caption: “Movements of 4 satellite-tagged polar bears for the month of July, 2016. Polar bears were tagged in 2015 and 2016 on the spring-time sea ice of the southern Beaufort Sea. All 4 of these bears have satellite collar transmitters. Polar bear satellite telemetry data are shown with AMSR2 remotely-sensed ice coverage from 31 July, 2016.” Original here.


There looks like a lot of open water for this time of year but in terms of absolute extent there is somewhat less ice than there was in 2007 and only slightly less than 2012, according to NSIDC Masie charts. And of course, what we know is that polar bears of the Chukchi Sea and the Southern Beaufort not only survived the low ice summers of 2007 and 2012, they thrived: CS bears were in great condition and reproducing well, and BS bears were recovering from the devastating thick ice conditions of the 2004-2006. Have a look at the maps below. Continue reading

Arctic melt ponds get media spotlight as Laptev Sea ice hits an 11 year high


Walt Meier, sea ice scientist at NASA Goddard, made a statement yesterday about this year’s ice conditions [2016 Climate Trends Continue to Break Records: July 19, 2016]:

“It has been a record year so far for global temperatures, but the record high temperatures in the Arctic over the past six months have been even more extreme,” Meier said. “This warmth as well as unusual weather patterns have led to the record low sea ice extents so far this year. [my bold]

Well, except for Davis Strait/Labrador Sea this spring. And Western Hudson Bay/Foxe Basin this month – plus the fact that late July sea ice in the Laptev Sea is higher than it’s been for more than a decade (more on that below).

r04_Laptev_Sea_ts_4km 2016 July 19

I guess totals matter for some things – just not for polar bears. However, it’s nice to see the issue of melt ponds get some attention, since they are such a prominent feature of polar bear habitat during the summer melt season.

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Challenging Alaska polar bear research sound bites and bewildering ESA status

Beaufort Sea male polar bear USGS_2005 Amstrup photo

It’s easy to take polar bear research papers at face value but it’s not very scientific. The snappy sound bites provided for the benefit of the media – whether they’re embedded in press releases or in published abstracts – don’t cut it with trained scientists. Trained scientists read the whole report, critically examine the evidence it contains and assess that evidence within the context of previous knowledge. That’s what they are trained to do.

I challenge the superficial summary on the status of Alaskan polar bear populations provided by FactCheck.org journalist Vanessa Schipani.  Schipani disputed a comment made by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski that, according to the latest research Alaskan polar bear population numbers are strong and healthy. I’m not especially interested in the political context of the statement, only Schipani’s bald claim that Murkowski’s declaration is false.

I’ve read all the relevant papers in full and I contend that the evidence supports Murkowski’s statement. Schipani is confusing the issue by regurgitating ‘facts’ that don’t tell the truth of the matter. By the sum of accounts, Alaskan polar bear populations are indeed healthy and strong – whether or not this status will continue is an entirely different question. Continue reading

Summer refuge for polar bears in Arctic Basin only 0.3 mkm2 below its possible maximum

At the seasonal minimum 2015, the Arctic Basin was still almost full of sea ice, down only 0.3 mkm2 below the maximum it could ever be.

Healy Aug 24 2015 Polar-Bear III Tim Kenna

Remember that spending the summer in the Arctic Basin for most polar bears is just like sitting on the western shore of Hudson Bay – they are all waiting for the refreeze. In either location, they might find something to eat, they might not.

Below are NSIDC MASIE sea ice maps for 10 April 2015 (as big as it gets, basin filled) vs. 17 September 2015: Continue reading

Designated critical habitat for Alaskan polar bears offers no protection from thick spring ice deaths

The Obama administration is apparently attempting to overturn a previous ruling that rejected proposed Alaskan “critical habitat” for polar bears in 2013 – as if “critical habitat” would protect the bears from the repeated episodes of thick spring ice that develop in this region every 10 years or so.

Polar_Bear_male on sea ice_Alaska Katovik Regehr photo_April 29, 2005_sm labeled

According to a Reuters report today (5 May 2015):

Seeking to reverse a ruling throwing out its designation of critical habitat for polar bears, the Obama administration has defended its decision to list large swathes of the Arctic as necessary for the conservation of the threatened species.

A coalition of oil industry groups and Alaska Natives, represented by Stoel Rives and Holland & Hart, successfully persuaded the U.S. District Court for Alaska to vacate the government’s polar bear habitat designation in 2013.” [my bold]

If they succeed, it would put most of the north coast of Alaska under special ESA rules, as the map below shows (click to enlarge).

Critical habitat Polar Bears US_NorthSlopeOrg map_labeled_PolarBearScience

As I commented previously, regarding the Obama administration’s recommendation to congress that they approve a proposed Arctic wildlife refuge area on Alaska’s North Slope, this move (if implemented) would not protect polar bears from the starvation deaths due to thick spring ice conditions that have occurred in this region for 2-3 years out of every 10 since 1960 at least.

The other issue is how much additional, biologically meaningful protection a critical habitat designation would provide for Southern Beaufort and Chukchi Sea polar bears – over and above that already provided by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
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Chukchi-Beaufort sea ice atlas: check out polar bear habitat 1850-2013

It’s here – as promised and right on schedule — the sea ice atlas put together by University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) now has ice concentration maps for Alaska going back to 1850 — and for every year up to 2013. 

Several examples are included below: August 1850 vs August 1870, and April 1850 vs. April 1920 and April 2012.

For background, see my post announcing the site preview, which was then limited to 1953-2012 data, when it became available in late January.

Sea ice atlas_1850_Aug
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Graphing polar bear population estimates over time

I’ve already commented on the 2013 update of polar bear population status released by the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG).

However, I thought it might be interesting to graph the changes in global population estimates over time (from 1981-2013) — not just the actual estimates from PBSG status tables (with their min/max error ranges) but those totals plus the so-called “inaccurate” estimates that the PBSG have dropped from their accounts in recent (2005-2013) assessments: Chukchi Sea, East Greenland, Queen Elizabeth Islands (now known as the “Arctic Basin”), and Laptev Sea.

In 2001, those “inaccurate” estimates contributed 5,000-5,400 bears to the global total, but now they’re gone — no bears from those regions contribute to the official totals listed on recent PBSG status tables.

Adding those dropped estimates back into the global totals makes it possible to generate a graph in which the global estimates are truly comparable over time.

To see how the dropped estimates influenced the perception of population change over time, I’ve also graphed the estimates given by the PBSG in their status tables. I’ve combined the two into one image (Fig. 1, click to enlarge) to make comparison easy.

UPDATE 5 December 2014: Links to more recent posts relevant to this issue added below. The most recent numbers, added 31 May 2015, are here.

UPDATE 26 March 2019: See “Latest global polar bear abundance ‘best guess’ estimate is 39,000 (26,000-58,000)
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Polar bear habitat update for October 31, 2013

Here’s the ground-truth follow-up to my suggestion of what polar bear habitat would likely look like 6 weeks after the minimum extent was reached this year – which was looking then like it would mirror 2009.

You’ll find my discussion, posted on September 22, here. At that point (September 13), ice extent was 5.1 million square kilometers; now it is 9.1 million square kilometers (Fig.1).

Figure 1. Oct 30 2013 Maisie sea ice extent, 9.1 mkm2. This does not take thickness or concentration into account.

Figure 1. Oct 30 2013 Maisie sea ice extent, 9.1 mkm2. Click to enlarge.

Have a look at the maps below: Fig. 2 to see how ice extent at October 31st compares to ice extent at the end of October 2009, and Fig. 3 to see what ice concentrations looked like in the Canadian Arctic.

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