Tag Archives: extent

Sea ice adjacent to all major polar bear onshore summer refugia at 31 July 2019

For all the hand-wringing over sea ice extent this year and its supposed similarity to 2012, what is truly remarkable is that at the end of July ice remains adjacent to every single major terrestrial summer refugia known to be important for polar bears. Those refugia sites include (from west to east, starting in the Chukchi Sea): Wrangel Island, western Chukotka, Severnaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land, East Greenland, virtually all the islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (including Southampton Island in Foxe Basin and the southwest and eastern coasts of Baffin Island), and Western Hudson Bay.

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 July 31

Few bears spend the entire summer onshore along the Alaska coast: most still spend the summer on the sea ice and move with it as it contracts toward the Arctic Basin, as do many bears in the Barents, Kara, East Siberian, and Chukchi Seas. Until a few weeks ago, however, there was enough ice present that Beaufort Sea bears could go ashore if they wanted to do so. Continue reading

Polar bear spotted on Bear Island (Barents Sea) this winter for the first time in 8 years

A polar bear was spotted this year on Bear Island (Bjørnøya) in the southern Barents Sea on 8 March by the crew at the Meteorological Station. The last time these workers had seen a polar bear was 2011 but this year extensive Barents Sea ice literally brought a bear to their doorstep, similar to the way that sea ice brings bears to southern Labrador and Newfoundland in late winter and spring.

Bear island 8 March 2019_first bear seen by Meteorological Institute station crews since 2011_Bjørnøya Meteorological Station photo

After below-average ice cover around Svalbard for most of the winter months of January and February, by early March the ice had expanded so far to the south it reached Bjørnøya. It was the kind of ice that hadn’t been seen in decades and almost immediately, a polar bear was spotted on shore. Given the length of time that the ice surrounding the island persisted, it is likely more bears came ashore but were not seen: the Meteorological Station at the north end of the island is the only place that people live over the winter (see maps below).

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Shockingly thick first year ice between Barents Sea and the North Pole in mid-July

In late June, one of the most powerful icebreakers in the world encountered such extraordinarily thick ice on-route to the North Pole (with a polar bear specialist and deep-pocketed, Attenborough-class tourists onboard) that it took a day and a half longer than expected to get there. A few weeks later, in mid-July, a Norwegian icebreaker also bound for the North Pole (with scientific researchers on board) was forced to turn back north of Svalbard when it unexpectedly encountered impenetrable pack ice.

Franz Josef Land polar bear 2019 no date_Photo by Michael Hambrey_sm

A polar bear on hummocked sea ice in Franz Josef Land. Photo by Michael Hambrey, date not specified but estimated based on tour dates to be 22 or 23 June 2019.

Apparently, the ice charts the Norwegian captain consulted showed first year ice – ice that formed the previous fall, defined as less than 2 m thick (6.6 ft) – which is often much broken up by early summer. However, what he and his Russian colleague came up against was consolidated first year pack ice up to 3 m thick (about 10 ft). Such thick first year ice was not just unexpected but by definition, should have been impossible.

Ice charts for the last few years that estimate actual ice thickness (rather than age) show ice >2 m thick east and/or just north of Svalbard and around the North Poie is not unusual at this time of year.  This suggests that the propensity of navigational charts to use ice ‘age’ (e.g. first year vs. multi-year) to describe ice conditions could explain the Norwegian captain getting caught off-guard by exceptionally thick first year ice. It also provides an explanation for why the polar bear specialist onboard the Russian icebreaker later failed to explain that first year ice of such shocking thickness was truly extraordinary, not just a bit thicker than usual.

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Just look at what the ‘global heat wave’ is doing to polar bear sea ice habitat!

According to the Guardian (9 July 2018), there is a “global heat wave” going on right now.

In Siberia, the heat is supposedly “completely unprecedented” and will surely (we are told) impact Arctic sea ice — the habitat of the iconic polar bear.  Yet a comparison of previous years shows little to no impact on sea ice: there is more ice present than there was in 2007.

Polar Bear Breaks Ice

Said The Guardian:

“But though we cannot say definitively that the current heatwave is caused by carbon emissions, it fits the pattern of long-term changes that we call climate. It is part of a global phenomenon, even if not the most important part. The really significant change is happening in eastern Siberia at the moment, where a completely unprecedented heatwave is warming that Arctic coastline, with consequences that are unpredictable in detail but surely bad on a large scale.” [my bold]

The heat — which some folks admit they not only expect during this season called summer but anticipate with joy — has been around since late June, with several locales outside Siberia affected, including southern Ontario, Quebec, Los Angeles CA, Britan, many locations in the eastern USA, Europe.

With so many locations across the Northern Hemisphere experiencing very hot weather over the last few weeks (maybe record-breaking, maybe not), let’s take a look at what all that heat is doing to Arctic sea ice compared to previous years.
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Winter polar bear sea ice habitat by early March 2018 varied little from 2006 or 2017

Here’s a polar bear habitat update for early March: some folks are wringing their hands over the relatively extent of ice this season but ice maps show that as far as polar bear habitat is concerned, conditions are not materially different this year from what they were in 2006 or 2017. There is still plenty of late winter sea ice for polar bears needing a platform from which to hunt Arctic seals, which in some areas will have already begun giving birth to their fat furry pups (harp seals first, other species later).

The MASIE map for 5 March 2018 (Day 64) shows ice extent at 14.5 mkm2:

masie_all_zoom_4km 2018 March 5

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Histrionics over Arctic temperatures & sea ice extent: implications for polar bears

Panic over Arctic temperatures got smeared across news networks last week, so I think a bit of perspective is in order, including an assessment of what this means for polar bears and their prey (because some of the hysteria is being amplified from that corner).

The region causing all the kerfuffle is at the northernmost tip of Greenland (see map below), where there is a weather station at Cape Morris Jesup. Next-nearest stations are at Alert, Canada (to the west) and Longyearbyen, Svalbard (Norway, to the east).

Cape Morris Jesup location Greenland_Google map

Arctic temps spike over 30 degrees in the midst of winter (The Weathern Network, Friday, February 23, 2018) included the tweet below, showing a fracture of sea ice north of Greenland so transient that it does not show up on daily sea ice maps:

“Along with those spikes in temperature, Lars Kaleschke’s tweet, above, also shows the large rift in the sea ice that opened up just north of Cape Morris Jesup, at the same time. Kaleschke is a professor of sea ice remote sensing at the Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability, at the University of Hamburg, in Germany.

Summary: Temperature and sea ice “abberations” in northern Greenland are transient phenomena that have clearly happened before (e.g. 2011) without major consequences except perhaps through impacts on eastern Arctic and subArctic weather conditions (including the UK).

Lack of sea ice north of Svalbard in the Barents Sea occuried last year and in 2012 in Februrary. But by mid-to-late March, when seal are beginning to give birth on the ice and polar bears are busy hunting them, ice had again covered the region. This year is likely to be the same. However, we won’t know until the end of March or ealry April if a recovery will or won’t happen, so any alarm-ringing about impacts on Arctic fauna surival have no foundation in fact until then.

East Greenland Scorsby Sound March 2011 on Kap Tobin_Rune Dietz_press photo

Scorsby Sound, East Greenland bear in March 2011. Rune Dietz, press photo.

In the Bering Sea, ice extent is well below average for this time of year but studies show the one consistent feature of Bering Sea ice is its variability. Low ice levels have distressing impacts for St. Lawrence island seal and whale hunters. However, there is certainly enough ice in the Bering Sea/Chukchi Sea region for polar bears and Arctic seals to do what they do this time of year (which is try to survive until early April, at which time seals start giving birth to their pups and polar bears start to eat them, with gusto). And the ice season isn’t over: maximum extent of ice in the Bering sea doesn’t usually come until late April or May, and the dramatic decline of mid-February already shows signs of reversing.

Details below this ice map for 24 February 2018, courtesy NSIDC Masie:

masie_all_zoom_4km 2018 Feb 24

PS. I’m off within hours to Toronto for the launch of my State of the Polar Bear Report in honour of International Polar Bear Day, 27 February. Watch for reports in the news and for my op-ed 27 February at the Financial Post.

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Polar bear habitat message for the year end: 2016 Arctic ice extent same as 2010

According to NSIDC daily sea ice interactive graph,  there was ever so slightly more ice on 31 Dec 2016 than on that date in 2010. However, the corresponding ice maps show just how differently that ice was distributed.

sea-ice-at-31-dec-2016_vs-2010_nsidc-interactive

Recall that in 2010, there was no huge die-off of polar bears attributed to reduced amounts of sea ice in the fall (or to reduced ice in summer, for that matter) because there was no catastrophic die-off at all.

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