Tag Archives: Foxe Basin

Winter returns to the Arctic – freeze-up 2015 at October 20 expands polar bear habitat

Fall is the season when polar bears that have spent the summer fasting can return to the refreezing sea ice to resume successful hunting. For polar bears, fall is the second-most important time of year for hunting, after spring.

masie_all_zoom_4km_2015 Oct 20

The date when freeze-up occurs across the Arctic varies from place to place and year to year, but the process is well underway this year. The US National Snow and Ice Data Center’s MASIE map for 20 October 2015 (above) shows 7.7 mkm2 of sea ice, up from the annual low of 4.41 mkm2 almost 6 weeks ago.

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Well-fed polar bears onshore at height of summer easily deterred by noise, CBC reports

From the CBC this morning, we have the report of a female polar bear and her cub paying a visit to an Nunavut campsite near Chesterfield Inlet in northwestern Hudson Bay, which is technically within the boundary of the Foxe Basin polar bear subpopulation.

Maggie Putulik photo, 29 July 2015 Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut.

Maggie Putulik photo, 29 July 2015 Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut.

These are not the desperate bear victims of global warming we have been warned about by polar bear specialists but well-fed curious ursids not averse to an easy meal if there’s one to be had. Such bears are easily deterred by a loud noise. Note this was the second visit by polar bears this Nunavut family had experienced at this location within a three-week period – two other bears had stopped by earlier. Note that ice in this region of Hudson Bay broke up earlier than usual this year yet these bears seem to be in fine condition and can expect the first fall ice of the season (freeze-up) to appear in their neighbourhood, see maps below.
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2nd highest ice coverage for Hudson Bay since 1971 at mid-August – only 1992 higher

Since 1971, there has been no year when there was as much ice left on Hudson Bay as there is this year at August 13th, except 1992 – the year when Mt. Pinatubo seemingly affected Hudson Bay ice levels but not any other region in Eastern Canada or the Beaufort Sea. Odd, that – see the graphs below.

Hudson Bay same week 13 Aug 1971-2015

Doesn’t mean that much to polar bears, since they will mostly be fasting whether they are onshore for the summer or riding the ice – they primarily live off their fat this time of year. Still, the relative ice levels are interesting because it could impact freeze-up dates later this fall, which will influence the bears’ ability to hunt before the winter fast sets in.

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Hudson Bay, Davis Strait and Foxe Basin sea ice highest since 1992

We are seeing one of the extremes in Hudson Bay sea ice variability this year, not only in extent but in distribution of ice. Ice coverage on Hudson Bay this year at 28 July was twice what it was in 2009, the last “late” ice breakup year for which detailed ice maps are available (409 vs. 204 thousand km2), according to NSIDC MASIE ice maps. Canadian Ice Service data show 2015 coverage for the week of 30 July was the highest since 1992.

Churchill_Polar_Bear_2004-11-15 Wikipedia

The odd pattern of ice distribution presents a conundrum. Have a look at the maps and graphs below.

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Sea ice breakup update: high ice coverage just about everywhere, even Hudson Bay

There is still a lot of sea ice in Hudson Bay, Foxe Basin, Davis Strait and Baffin Bay this week – more than average for this date – with slightly less than average in the Beaufort Sea. Past behaviour of Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears suggests the mean date that bears come ashore for the summer this year will be later than average due to the plentiful ice available, regardless of when polar bear biologists decide that “breakup” has occurred.

Hudson Bay breakup July 8 2015_CIS

Hudson Bay, with almost 50% of the bay still covered in ice, has the third highest coverage this week since 1992 (after 2009 and 2004); Davis Strait has the highest coverage since 1992; and Foxe Basin and Baffin Bay have the highest coverage since 1998. For this week, the Beaufort Sea has the second highest coverage since 2006 (after 2013), and more ice than was present in 1971, 1982, 1987, 1988 and 1998 – among others.

Published data shows that most polar bears of Western Hudson Bay traditionally come ashore in July, but this year it might be late July or even August. Have a look at the charts below.
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Hudson Bay sea ice above average for this date – more good news for polar bears

It’s only the 4th of December and Hudson Bay ice formation is way up over late 2000s coverage for this date — and higher than 2012, which had the lowest overall September ice extent for the Arctic since 1978.

Hudson Bay freeze-up same week_Dec 4 1971_2014 w average

This means boom times for Western and Southern Hudson Bay polar bears as sea ice formation is several days to a week ahead of last year. And as I mentioned in my last post, average November ice coverage across the Arctic this year was higher than 2003. Don’t forget that 2/3’s of the world’s polar bears live in Canada (see recent status update here; map below).

Figure 4. The Davis Strait (DS) subpopulation region runs from just below the Arctic Circle at the north end to at least 470N in the south. About half of DS lays at the same latitude as Western Hudson Bay (WH). Courtesy Environment Canada.

Polar bear population status in Canada. Courtesy Environment Canada.

More maps and charts below.
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Hudson Bay freeze-up: way more ice for this day than in 2013

On this day (20 November 2014), there is way more sea ice over Hudson Bay and Foxe Basin than 2013, with ice starting to form in Hudson Strait.

The polar bears of Hudson Bay are on the ice (except pregnant females, who will be in their dens); Churchill polar bear season is over (see previous discussions here and here).

Ice maps and graph courtesy Canadian Ice Service.

Sea ice extent Canada 2014 Nov 20 CIS
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Polar bear habitat update: what a difference a year makes to sea ice coverage in Canada!

There is far more ice — and far more concentrated ice — in Canada this year than on this day last year. That’s good news for most polar bear populations.

[And, it turns out, more ice total this year on this date than there has been since 2001!]

Polar bears off Churchill_2000-11-20_wikipedia

I’ve made a composite 2014/2013 ice map for 4 November that tells the story (courtesy daily Canadian Ice Service sea ice maps).
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Polar bear habitat update – Sea ice starting to form on Hudson Bay

Is that ice I see forming along the shore of Hudson Bay, just in time for Hallowe’en? Not enough to resume hunting but a sign that freeze-up can’t be too far off. See the ice map below and this photo posted at PolarBearAlley confirming the presence of slushy ice on the shore near Churchill.

Sea ice extent Canada 2014 Oct 31 CIS

[Map above from Canadian Ice Service updated daily, click to enlarge]

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About the time I asked a challenging question at a global warming workshop

When you really want to challenge a speaker at a scientific meeting or public lecture, deciding what’s the best question to ask is often difficult. Here’s an example that might inspire you.

In 2009, I asked polar bear biologist Lily Peacock what appeared to be an innocuous question about Foxe Basin sea ice1 at a scientific workshop that got everyone’s attention.

The question — and the reaction — might surprise you.

Arctic sea ice 2009 vs 2014 NSIDC BIST Foxe Basin marked_PolarBearScience Continue reading