Tag Archives: global warming

Polar bear population numbers are for kids, says specialist Andrew Derocher

Polar bear specialists made global population numbers the focus of the world’s attention when they predicted a dramatic decline and possible extinction of the species. But now that the numbers have increased slightly rather than declined, the same scientists say global numbers are meaningless: the public should give those figures no credence and anyone who cites global population numbers should be mocked.

NBC 2015_3 there will soon be a big decline in polar bear numbers snap

See the screen shot from a 2015 NBC news video above and another from the science journal NATURE in 2008 below (Courtland 2008):

Courtland 2008 headline

Yet, below is a recent message from one of the world’s most vocal polar bear specialists, four years after a similar incident raised the public’s ire:

Derocher tweet 2018 Feb 28 quote

However, you can’t make a plausible prediction of future survival without an estimate of present population size: not even today’s worst journalists would buy it, nor should they.
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At the winter maximum, still about the same polar bear habitat this year as 2006

There is no evidence that slightly less winter sea ice than the average since 1979 has had any negative impact on polar bear health or survival: the difference is simply not biologically meaningful to Arctic animals.

PB_male on ice_Regehr USFWS_March 2010_labeled

Polar bear on winter sea ice around the yearly maximum in the Beaufort Sea, 2010 (March 21).

NASA’s 23 March 2018 announcement regarding the Arctic sea ice maximum this year:

“Sea ice in the Arctic grew to its annual maximum extent last week, and joined 2015, 2016 and 2017 as the four lowest maximum extents on record, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA.”

Except, what they don’t tell you is that 2006 had almost the same extent as 2018 and 2006 wasn’t far behind according to the official, averaged data presented at NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis:

Arctic sea ice Maximum 10 lowest extents_NSIDC 23 March 2018

Current conditions at the winter maximum (at 17 March 2018, from NSIDC Masie, extent measured at 14.7 mkm2, using software able to discern more ice than used for the figures in Table 1), shown below: Continue reading

My Financial Post op-ed: Polar bears keep thriving even as global warming alarmists keep pretending they’re dying

One powerful polar bear fact is slowly rising above the message of looming catastrophe repeated endlessly by the media: More than 15,000 polar bears have not disappeared since 2005. Although the extent of the summer sea ice after 2006 dropped abruptly to levels not expected until 2050, the predicted 67-per-cent decline in polar bear numbers simply didn’t happen. Rather, global polar bear numbers have been stable or slightly improved.

lying-bear-shutterstock_244419640_cropped_web-size.jpg

The polar bear’s resilience should have meant the end of its use as a cherished icon of global warming doom, but it didn’t. The alarmism is not going away without a struggle. Continue reading

New Scientist prints a more reasoned polar bear article but myths persist

New Scientist has an article coming out next week takes a fairly reasoned approach to the polar bear conservation issue. It acknowledges that polar bear numbers have not declined in recent years even though summer sea ice dropped dramatically but goes on to perpetuate a number of myths that might not have happened if the author had done his homework or quizzed his other experts as thoroughly as he did me.

New Scientist headline_10 Feb 2018 issue 3164 photo

The survivors: is climate change really killing polar bears? Rapid global warming is said to be ringing the death knell for polar bears, by melthing their icy hunting grounds. But the reality is more complex. Fred Pearce, New Scientist 10 February 2018. Online now.

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Polar bear specialists double-down on message of future starving bears

The really significant content of a new paper being heavily-hyped by the media1 is what wasn’t said rather than what the authors discovered about metabolic rates and weight maintenance of a small sample of nine Southern Beaufort Sea bears in 2014 to 2016 (Pagano et al. 2018; Whiteman 2018).

Pagano et al. 2018 photo released to press 2

This paper does not document starving or dying bears but merely found some (5/9) that lost weight when they should have been gaining, given that early April is the start of the ringed seal pupping season (Smith 1987) and the intensive spring feeding period for polar bears (Stirling et al. 1981).

The question is, why were Southern Beaufort Sea polar bears off Prudhoe Bay (see map of the study area below), still hunting and capturing only adult and subadult ringed seals from sea ice leads when newborn ringed seal pups and their mothers should have been plentiful and relatively easily available in their birth lairs on the sea ice (see below)?

Ringed seal lair_snow and ice thickness_PolarBearScience_sm

“Using video collar data, we documented bears’ hunting behavior and foraging success. Bears used sit-and-wait tactics to hunt seals 90% of the time, and stalking comprised the remaining 10% of hunts (movies S1 to S4) (19). Bears that successfully killed and ate adult or subadult ringed seals either gained or maintained body mass, whereas bears that only scavenged or showed no evidence of eating lost mass.”

There was no discussion in the paper of ringed seal birth lairs, or sea ice conditions at the time of the study, but several mentions about what might happen in the future to sea ice and potential consequences for polar bears. The press release did the same.

However, as you’ll see by the sea ice thickness maps below, there may be good reason for the lack of ringed seal lairs, and a general lack of seals except at the nearshore lead that forms because of tidal action: the ice just a bit further offshore ice looks too thick for a good crop of ringed seals in all three years of the study. This is reminiscent of conditions that occurred with devastating results in the mid-1970s and mid-2000s (Burns et al. 1975; Cherry et al. 2009; Harwood et al. 2012, 2015; Pilfold et al. 2012; Stirling 2002, Stirling et al. 1987). Those events affected primarily bears in the eastern half of the Southern Beaufort and were almost certainly responsible for the recorded decline in SB bear numbers in the 2001-2010 survey (Bromaghin et al. 2015; Crockford 2017; Crockford and Geist 2018).

It seems very odd to me that Pagano and colleagues suggested no reasons for the unexpectedly poor showing of polar bear hunting success during their study except a bit of hand-waving about higher-than-we-thought metabolic rates in the bears. For years, I’ve worried that the inevitable next episodes of thick Southern Beaufort spring ice would cause problems for polar bears and seals but we wouldn’t know it because whatever effects were documented would be blamed on reduced summer ice: I suspect that time may have come.

Pagano et al. 2018 polar bear fat and energy fig 1

Figure 1 from Pagano et al. 2018 cropped to show only the study area off Alaska.

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Polar bear numbers not declining despite media headlines suggesting otherwise

In scanning comments generated by the recent flurry of internet interest in polar bears and blogs I noticed that a good many people, fed alarming media stories, are still convinced that polar bear numbers are declining rapidly when nothing could be further from the truth.

Crockford 2017_Slide 12 screencap

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Failed Amstrup polar bear predictions have climate change community in a panic

Polar bear experts who falsely predicted that roughly 16,400 polar bears would be dead by now1 (given sea ice conditions since 2007) have realized their failure has not only kicked their own credibility to the curb, it has taken with it the reputations of their climate change colleagues. This has left many folks unhappy about the toppling of this important global warming icon but ironically, consensus polar bear experts and climate scientists (and their supporters) were the ones who set up the polar bear as a proxy for AGW in the first place.

Cover image_Twenty Reasons_polarbearscience

I published my professional criticisms on the failed predictions of the polar bear conservation community in a professional online scientific preprint journal, which has now been downloaded almost 2,000 times (Crockford 2017; Crockford and Geist 2017).

Crockford 2017_Slide 12 screencap

My paper demonstrates that the polar bear/seaice decline hypothesis, particularly the one developed by Steven Amstrup, is a failure. I’m not the only one who thinks so, as emails obtained from the US Fish and Wildlife Service show. The argument the paper lays out and the facts it presents have not been challenged by any one of the consensus polar bear experts who object to it so strenuously. Instead, they have chosen to misrepresent my work, and publicly belittle my credentials and scientific integrity in the published literature (Harvey et al. 2017) and online.

Harvey and colleagues suggest in their paper that I and others use polar bears as a proxy for AGW as part of a deliberate plan to undermine the public’s confidence in global warming.

Harvey et al. state:

“…the main strategy of denier blogs is therefore to focus on topics that are showy and in which it is therefore easy to generate public interest. These topics are used as “proxies” for AGW in general; in other words, they represent keystone dominoes that are  strategically placed in front of many hundreds of others, each representing a separate line of evidence for AGW. By appearing to knock over the keystone domino, audiences targeted by the communication may assume all other dominoes are toppled in a form of “dismissal by association.” [my bold]

I do not recall ever stating or implying that if polar bear predictions of doom were wrong, then general climate change models must also be wrong. But if any other bloggers have done so, they can hardly be blamed.

A bit of reflection shows it was the climate science community itself — in collaboration with Arctic researchers and the media — who by the year 2000 (below left) set the polar bear up as an icon for catastrophic global warming. They made the polar bear a proxy for AGW.

Al Gore used the polar bears on an ice flow image (above right) to seal global warming icon status for the polar bear in his 2007 movie, An Inconvenient Truth (see National Post March 2007 article here).

As Harvey et al. co-author Michael Mann said only a few years ago (24 March 2014):

“We are now the polar bear.”

A clear association was made between polar bear survival and AGW, time and time again, as recently as last February (2017):

Stroeve 2017 we are all ice dependent species

So, when the polar bears failed to die by the thousands as polar bear models predicted, after years of lower summer ice than any sea ice models predicted (see graphic below), some people may have logically stated or implied that perhaps general climate models are similarly flawed.

In essence, Mann’s “we are now the polar bear” statement came back to bite him and his colleagues in the ass, Amstrup and Ian Stirling included.  Predictably, they would like to blame someone else for their failure and embarrassment, so they wrote a sloppy tantrum paper that pretends my polar bear/sea ice decline document doesn’t exist.

I guess we all should have seen it coming.

UPDATE 8 January 2018: Forgot to add that Mann’s upcoming children’s book depends on the polar bear being an appealing icon for global warming: he uses the bears as a hook to grab the interest and sympathy of naive youngsters so that he can sell them his scary modeled prophesy of the future. In contrast, my children’s book Polar Bear Facts & Myths deals with the current status and science of polar bears, sea ice and Arctic ecology and draws no parallels between global warming predictions and polar bear survival.

Mann_tantrum that saved the world Dec 2017 cropped

Fig 3 Sea ice prediction vs reality 2012

Predicted sea ice changes (based on 2004 data) at 2020, 2050, and 2080 that were used in 2007 to predict a 67% decline in global polar bear numbers vs. an example of the sea ice extent reality experienced since 2007 (shown is 2012). See Crockford 2017 for details.

Footnote (added 30 March 2018):

Just to clarify, this represents the predicted decline of 67% of the population (i.e. 24,500 bears) estimated to exist in 2005 by the US Geological Survey.

References

Crockford, S.J. and Geist, V. 2018. Conservation Fiasco. Range Magazine, Winter 2017/2018, pg. 26-27. Pdf here.

Crockford, S.J. 2017. 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. https://doi.org/10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v3

Harvey, J.A., van den Berg, D., Ellers, J., Kampen, R., Crowther, T.W., Roessingh, P., Verheggen, B., Nuijten, R. J. M., Post, E., Lewandowsky, S., Stirling, I., Balgopal, M., Amstrup, S.C., and Mann, M.E. 2017. Internet blogs, polar bears, and climate-change denial by proxy. Bioscience. DOI: 10.1093/biosci/bix133