Tag Archives: Greenland

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.

Continue reading

Horse killed by a polar bear in southern Greenland this week

“Until Wednesday, Malik Frederiksen owned nine horses at his property in southern Greenland. After an attack by a polar bear, he now owns eight.”

Nanortalik Greenland_in context Google maps

So begins an article published in The Arctic Journal yesterday (18 February) about more problem bears onshore in mid-winter. But this time, the location is the south-west tip of Greenland and this time, the polar bear killed something before it was shot. It could just as easily have been a person.

In addition, according to this report, this is the second time in two days that a polar bear has been shot onshore in Greenland because it got too close for comfort.

It’s also the second report in as many weeks of multiple polar bears onshore causing problems in the middle of winter – the other reports were from southern Labrador in late January/early February.  This is a new pattern: it’s different and it means something. Continue reading

The 32,000 population estimate for polar bears is not an error due to counting overlapping territories twice

UPDATE FEBRUARY 19, 2014The misleading “State of the Polar Bear” graphic is now GONE (as of January 31, 2014). A new 2013 status table is offered by the PBSG here. It has detailed text explanations and harvest information, with references, hyperlinked to each subpopulation entry (“Press the subpopulation hyperlink and more information will appear“) and may have replaced the “State of the Polar Bear” graphic that the PBSG commissioned for upwards of US$50,000, although the PBSG website says it is being “updated” [A pdf copy of the 2013 colour table is here, and my commentary on it is here.] I have left the original post as is, below.

[UPDATE April 1, 2013: see updates here and here ]

This is a brief follow-up to my last post.

I got an email from a reader suggesting that the high numbers for the world’s polar bear population, as given by the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) on their website in their State of the Polar Bear (SoPB) summary feature – as tallied by nation (22,600-32,000) – may simply be an error resulting from counting overlapping territories twice (i.e. where a subpopulation with one population estimate is shared by two nations, the total amount has been attributed to each nation, rather than giving each of them half of the total).

That is not the case and I’ll tell you why.

If you haven’t yet seen the last post, pop back and have a look – it’s short.

Then note the following:
1) Re: the numbers given for Russia (given as 2,700-4,800 in SoPB-by-nation). Russia has three subpopulations of polar bears: Chukchi (shared with the USA), Kara Sea and Laptev Sea. See previous post here on these estimates by the PBSG.

Chukchi officially has a population of zero because it has never been surveyed. The same is true for the Kara Sea: its population is officially zero and always has been. The Laptev Sea is given a tentative estimate of 800-1,200 in most subpopulation estimates but on the “State of the Polar Bear” summary, it is given as zero. Thus, at the very most, the total for Russia could be 800-1,200.

Conclusion: the estimate of 2,700-4,800 for the Chukchi Sea is not a result of an overlap in count. It’s a new number and there is no information given about where it comes from (it’s remotely possible that the SoPB-by-nation number comes from a recent survey of the Chukchi Sea, see previous post here, but that number has not been made public and the study results have not yet been published).

2) Re: numbers for the USA (given as 1,200-1,800 in SoPB-by-nation). The US has two subpopulations: Southern Beaufort (which it shares with Canada) and the Chukchi Sea (which it shares with Russia). The number usually given for the Southern Beaufort is 1,200-1,800 – so the US share is something like 600-900. While the US shares the Chukchi population with Russia, the Chukchi has never been surveyed – its population is officially zero (half of zero is still zero).

Conclusion: if there has been any “doubling up” going on, it is here. The official (documented) number for the US should be about 600-900.

3) Re: numbers for Greenland (given as 3,500-4,400 in SoPB-by-nation). East Greenland has never been surveyed and the official estimate for that subpopulation is zero. West Greenland comprises three polar bear subpopulations that it shares with Canada: Baffin Bay (total count 1,544-2,604), Davis Strait (total count 1,811-2,534) and Kane Basin (total count 94-234). That comes to 3,449-5,372. Conclusion: if there had been a “doubling” of shared population numbers, the number for Greenland should have been listed in the SoPB-by-nation map as 3,449-5,372 (not 3,500-4,400).

The estimate for the world’s polar bear population, as given by the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) on their website in their State of the Polar Bear summary feature – as tallied by nation (22,600-32,000) – is not simply an error resulting from counting overlapping territories twice.