Tag Archives: Last Ice Area

Good news for polar bears and seals: new study finds multiyear Arctic sea ice is getting thinner

The fact that multiyear sea ice got thinner between 2018 and 2021 as documented by a new study, is ultimately good news for polar bears: less multiyear ice compared to first year ice is better for all marine mammals in the Arctic. Polar bears and seals, for example, are dependent on the seasonal ice that forms every winter (Atwood et al. 2016; Durner et al. 2009). Multiyear ice is simply too thick for any purpose except as a summer refuge for polar bears (for which land will do just as well) and a platform for maternity dens over the winter, for which thick first year ice will often do just as well (Anderson et al. 2012; Rode et al. 2018).

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Polar bear researchers try very hard to make good news in Kane Basin sound trivial

In an astonishing display of under-selling good news, the authors of a new paper announcing that Kane Basin polar bears are doing well have avoided mentioning that the population increased substantially since the 1990s and insist that any benefits will be short-lived.

Kane Basin population size at 2013 was 357 (range 221 – 493), up from 224 (range 145 – 303) in 1997. That’s an increase of 59% based on a 2016 recalculation of the 1997 population estimate of 164 (Crockford 2020) – it would have been a 118% increase otherwise.

Money quote: “We find that a small number of the world’s polar bears that live in multiyear ice regions are temporarily benefiting from climate change.” Kristen Laidre, lead author of Transient benefits of climate change for a high‐Arctic polar bear (Ursus maritimus) subpopulation

Both the paper and the press release also claim, despite acknowledging that there is no evidence for this conclusion (“the duration of these benefits is unknown“), that this good news will probably not last because computer models say beneficial conditions might not persist beyond the end of the century.

As always, if you’d like to see this paper, use the ‘contact me’ page to request a copy (it’s paywalled).

UPDATE 25 September 2020: News just out from Nunavut this morning, “New Nunavut polar bear surveys point to “currently healthy” populations in M’Clintock Channel and Boothia Bay.” The survey report for M’Clintock Channel (mentioned in the post below) and neighbouring Gulf of Bothia has still not been made public but this announcement suggests that population numbers in these subpopulations have also increased by some amount that will be similarly discounted as unimportant.

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