Tag Archives: Hudson Bay breakup

Spring/summer sea ice bonanza for polar bears – conditions excellent again for 2014

Again this year – contrary to predictions – there has been no early breakup of the sea ice on Hudson Bay and even though it’s the height of summer, there is plenty of ice throughout the Arctic to act as a feeding platform for polar bears. This makes it unlikely there will be a longer-than-average summer fast for polar bears again this year.

Figure 1. NSIDC MASIE map for June 21, 2014.

Figure 1. NSIDC MASIE map for June 21, 2014.

Sea ice maps around the Arctic for June 21 (and June 24, for Hudson Bay) reviewed and discussed below in relation to polar bear habitat — have a look.

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Challenging “save the polar bear” propaganda

[Updates: Note correction to point 6 and links added at the end of the post]

Polar Bears International has mustered the UK newspaper, The Guardian, to provide free publicity for a “save the polar bear” propaganda event coming up tomorrow, November 6.

From The Guardian Environment Blog:

“On Wednesday, 6 November at 10am EST and 3pm GMT you will have a chance to ask a scientist [Steven Amstrup] and a conservationist [Krista Wright] about the latest research on the state of polar bears – and the efforts to protect them.”

The “participants” of this webchat are Polar Bears International (PBI) employees. PBI is a lobbyist organization that uses its influence to pressure politicians and supposedly impartial scientific organizations, like the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG), to make decisions that fit their agenda. The PBI rallying cry is “Save Our Sea Ice.They are committed to promoting legislation to curtail supposed effects of anthropogenic global warming and are using polar bears as a tool to do so.

Dr. Steve Amstrup is now a full-time, professional activist and spokesperson for PBI (Chief Scientist and Vice President”), a job he took on after a long career as a polar bear biologist. Arranging “webchats” like this is part of the job he is now paid to do.

Krista Wright has a Bachelors degree in Outdoor Education and has worked for NGOs for more than 20 years. She joined PBI in 2009 and is now the Executive Director (i.e., an administrator). She is described as “a passionate conservationist who is deeply concerned about the effects of global warming on polar bears, the Arctic, and the planet.She brings emotion to this event, not science.

Below I dissect some of the fear-mongering background presented at The Guardian, one point at a time; Guardian quotes are in italics, numbered; my responses are below, with links to pertinent previous posts that are fully referenced:

[Links to video and the webchat Q & A have been added at the end of this post as updates]

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What polar bear habitat could look like in another 5-6 weeks

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC, Sept. 20 report), the annual sea ice minimum extent was reached on Sept. 13, 2013.

At 5.10 million square kilometers, this year’s low was a whopping 1.69 million square kilometers above the minimum extent for 2012 (which was the lowest since 1979) and well within two standard deviations of the 1979-2010 average. (Two standard deviations: “Measurements that fall far outside of the two standard deviation range or consistently fall outside that range suggest that something unusual is occurring that can’t be explained by normal processes”).

The minimum extent for 2013 is virtually indistinguishable from the minimum for 2009, which was 5.13 million square kilometers. The ice was distributed a bit differently in 2009 – more in the east and less in the west — than it was this year (see Fig. 1 below).

Figure 1. Using the JAXA “Sea ice monitor” feature, I plotted the date the 2013 minimum was reached (September 13, 5.10 million square kilometers, white) with an overlay (purple) for the same date back in 2009 (September 13, 2009, 5.13 million square kilometers), when that year’s minimum was reached (according to the NSIDC report). Areas of overlap are pink.

Figure 1. I used JAXA to plot the date the 2013 minimum was reached (September 13, 5.10 million square kilometers, white) with an overlay (purple) for the same date back in 2009 (September 13, 2009, 5.13 million square kilometers), when that year’s minimum was reached. Areas of overlap are pink.

You’ll know from previous discussions here that the annual minimum reached in late summer has little impact on polar bear health and survival (see excellent summary of the evidence for that here). What matters most to polar bears is the presence of ample ice in spring and early summer (March-June), which is their critical feeding period.

But after the fast that many polar bears endure over the height of the summer, they are eager to get back onto the ice and resume hunting. When in the fall does that become possible?

I wondered what the similarity in extent for 2013 and 2009 might tell us about polar bear habitat development over the next month or so.

In other words, what might polar bears this year expect in the way of sea ice development by say, the end of October? When might they be able to start hunting?

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Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation status, farthest south of all polar bears

“The Arctic” is a bit hard to define. While the Arctic Circle works as a good boundary for some purposes and the 100C isotherm for July for others, neither work for polar bears because several subpopulations live well south of these limits (Fig. 1).

In the east, Western Hudson Bay, Southern Hudson Bay and Davis Strait are all located well south of the Arctic Circle and the first two (and half of Davis Strait) are beyond the 100C July isotherm as well. In the western Arctic, the Chukchi Sea subpopulation is within the 100C July isotherm but at least half of its bears reside south of the Arctic Circle (Fig. 1) in the Bering Sea (see previous post here).

Unique amongst all of these is Southern Hudson Bay – all of its polar bears make maternity dens and/or spend the summer south of 600N.

Southern Hudson Bay (SH) bears live in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, while Western Hudson Bay (WH) bears reside in Manitoba and Nunavut. The two groups mix over the winter but appear to spend the summer/fall in their respective regions (Stirling et al. 2004). [See previous posts on Western Hudson Bay bears here, here, and here]

“Further south” in the Arctic usually means warmer, with open water present more weeks every summer, sea ice for fewer weeks over the winter. So, shouldn’t the bears of Southern Hudson Bay be already suffering more harm from global warming than virtually all other subpopulations, including those in Western Hudson Bay?

After all, Western Hudson Bay bears appear to have experienced a statistically significant decline in numbers, among other effects (Regehr et al. 2007; Stirling and Derocher 2012) — surely Southern Hudson Bay bears are doing worse?

You’d think so, but they aren’t.

Figure 1. Boundary limits for “the Arctic” (top map) such as the Arctic Circle (dashed line) or the 100C isotherm for July (solid red line) would not include several polar bear subpopulations that live south of these.

Figure 1. Boundary limits for “the Arctic” (top map) such as the Arctic Circle (dashed line) or the 100C isotherm for July (solid red line) would not include several polar bear subpopulations that live south of these.

UPDATED October 28, 2014: Reference added, Obbard et al. 2013 (aerial survey results).
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Good news for polar bears: no early breakup of W. Hudson Bay sea ice this year

The sea ice chart provided by the Canadian Ice Service (Fig. 1 below) shows a lot of ice still present in Hudson Bay today, the last day of June, 2013.

Figure 1. Sea ice extent in Canada, June 30, 2013. From the Canadian Ice Service.

Figure 1. Sea ice extent in Canada, June 30, 2013. From the Canadian Ice Service.

This means we have long passed the point when breakup of the sea ice in Western Hudson Bay (30% ice concentration) could be considered ‘early.’ See Table 1 below for previous breakup dates (1991-2009) and previous post here for more details.

 Table 1. Breakup dates calculated for Western Hudson Bay, 1991-2009, using a new method described by Cherry et al. (in press). More details in previous post here.


Table 1. Breakup dates calculated for Western Hudson Bay, 1991-2009, using the new method described by Cherry et al. (2013, in press). More details in previous post here.

Since most polar bears don’t leave the ice until almost a month after the official breakup date is declared, it means that even if breakup for Western Hudson Bay occurs within the next few days, most polar bears would not start their summer fast until the beginning of August.

Regardless of when polar bear biologists decide that breakup has occurred, one thing is now clear — this will not be an early breakup year for Western Hudson Bay. That’s good news for polar bears.

And what about the rest of the Arctic? You’ll see from Fig. 2 below that as of yesterday (June 29), there was still ice present in each of the 19 polar bear subpopulation regions — more good news for polar bears.

Figure 2. Sea ice extent worldwide vs. polar bear subpopulations at June 29, 2013. On this date, there was still sea ice present in every one of the 19 subpopulation regions. Map on the left from US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC “MASIE”) here; map on the right from the Polar Bear Specialist Group, with labels added. Click to enlarge

Figure 2. Sea ice extent worldwide vs. polar bear subpopulations at June 29, 2013. On this date, there was still sea ice present in every one of the 19 subpopulation regions. Map on the left from US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC “MASIE”) here; map on the right from the Polar Bear Specialist Group, with labels added. Click to enlarge

References
Cherry, S.G., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W., Lunn, N.J. 2013. Migration phenology and seasonal fidelity of an Arctic marine predator in relation to sea ice dynamics. Journal of Animal Ecology 82(4):912-921.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1365-2656.12050/abstract

Buffet time for polar bears – spring/early summer is for eating baby seals

Spring is the busiest and most important season for polar bears: it is the most important feeding period and it is also when mating occurs. The fat that polar bears put on during the spring and early summer is critical for their survival over the rest of the year and for females, determines whether they can successfully produce cubs the following year.

Mothers and new cubs emerge from their winter dens in late March to early April and those who have chosen to den on land soon head towards the sea ice. For a fabulous photo of a polar bear female and her two young cubs, just out of their winter den, feeding on a bearded seal pup, pop over here. All other bears, including females with older cubs, will already be on the ice, feeding on the first newborn ice seals of the season and any other seals they can catch.

It’s buffet time for polar bears but the most dangerous time for cute baby seals. Continue reading

Polar bears of W. Hudson Bay came ashore in 2009 as late as in 1992

It’s like pulling teeth, getting up-to-date information on breakup dates of Hudson Bay sea ice. You’d think with the importance of this seasonal event to the polar bears of Hudson Bay (some of which, we’re told, face the most perilous future of all polar bears worldwide), we’d get a press release every summer alerting us to the precise date of sea ice breakup and the subsequent arrival of the bears onshore. I’m thinking of something similar to the dispatches we get from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) when Arctic sea ice reaches its yearly maximum (e.g. March 2012) and its yearly minimum extent (e.g. September 2012).

Sadly, this is not the case.

So I was intrigued to see that a new paper just out in the Journal of Animal Ecology, by Seth Cherry (a Ph.D. student of Andrew Derocher) and colleagues, dealt with Hudson Bay breakup dates. I was hoping for some data beyond 2007, which has been the limit of information provided so far by polar bear biologists (see previous posts here and here). Unfortunately, because the methods for determining breakup dates in this paper are so different from previous ones (more detail below), the new data (1991-2009) can’t be compared to earlier studies that go back to 1979. But there is some good news.

Although you wouldn’t know it by the author’s conclusion, the results of the study confirm for this region my previously stated contention that polar bears need spring and early summer ice (March through June) for gorging on young, fat seals and documented declines in sea ice have rarely impinged on that critical feeding period – by which I meant, bears have seldom, if ever, been forced off the ice of Hudson Bay as early as June.

The study also confirms that there has not been any kind of spectacular retreat of sea ice breakup dates – coming earlier and earlier in the season – over the last 19 years and that polar bears did not arrive on shore in 2009 until very late – approximately 22 August – the same date they came ashore in 1992.

Below are two figures from the paper: one (the map) necessary to understand the new “Cherry method” of calculating breakup dates for Hudson Bay (no disrespect intended) and the other (the graph), which presents the data collected. The table with my converted breakup dates is below them. A few quotes from the study and some comments on it follows.

UPDATE (March 21 2013; 6:12 PM PST). A typo in the table has been fixed (2001 is Jun 21 not Jul 21) and the post amended accordingly.
UPDATE 2 (July 7, 2013) The Cherry et al. paper is now in print, the references have been updated accordingly.

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