Tag Archives: loss of summer ice

Global polar bear population larger than previous thought – almost 30,000

The results of three recently-released studies that were not included in the last IUCN Red List assessment add more than 2,050 bears (on average)1 to the official 2015 global polar bear estimate, a point you won’t likely hear next Monday (27 February) from most polar bear specialists, conservation organizations, their cheerleaders and corporate sponsors on International Polar Bear Day.

global-pb-population-size-graphic2_2017-feb-polarbearscience-corrected

This means the adjusted 2015 global estimate for polar bears should be about 28,500 (average), a significant increase over the official estimate of 26,500 (average) for 2015 — and an even larger increase over the 2005 estimate of about 22,500 (average)2, despite the dramatic loss of summer sea ice since 2007 that we hear about endlessly.

It is increasingly obvious that polar bears are thriving despite having lived through summer sea ice levels not predicted to occur until 2050 – levels of sea ice that experts said would wipe out 2/3 of the world’s polar bears (Amstrup et al. 2007; Crockford 2017 v3).

A result, I have been remiss to point out [updated 28 Feb. 2017 & included in revised Version 3 of Crockford 2017], that Drs. Kesten Green, Scott Armstrong and Willie Soon correctly concluded in 2008 was a likely outcome. In their 2008 paper that roundly criticized the USGS forecasting methods used to support placing polar bears on the US Endangered Species List (Armstrong et al. 2008:390), they concluded:

“Given the upward trend in polar bear numbers over the past few decades, a modest upward trend is likely to continue in the near future because the apparent cause of the trend (hunting restrictions) remains.”

So when you hear, “Save the polar bears, their future is grim” next week, remember that polar bears are thriving right now because those future predictions were flawed: summer sea ice is not critical habitat for polar bears. Instead of a vacuous “vanishing species” polar bear T-shirt from WWF, buy Polar Bear Facts and Myths for the kids in your life – and Polar Bears: Outstanding Survivors of Climate Change for your home or community library. You’ll be glad you did.

Footnotes:

1. Total for all three estimate increases is 2054, or about 2050.
Barents Sea (BS) estimated at 3749 for entire region, up 42% (1109) since 2004 estimate of 2640, based on 42% Svalbard increase determined in 2015 (Norwegian Polar Institute 2015; Crockford 2017 v2) applied across the region. This is consistent with observations in 2004 that researchers found about three times (2.87) as many bears in the Russian sector than in Svalbard (Aars et al. 2009), and the stated expectation by Norwegian biologists that the population size would continue to increase despite declines in sea ice (Fauchald et al. 2014).

Baffin Bay (BB) estimate 2,826 (95% CI = 2,059-3,593) at 2013 (SWG 2016), up 752.

Kane Basin (KB) estimate 357 (95% CI: 221 – 493) at 2013 (SWG 2016), up 193.

2. USGS polar bear biologists (Amstrup et al. 2007) used a figure of 24,500 for the global population size in 2005 to support their prediction of doom at mid-century that put polar bears on the US Endangered Species List (Crockford 2017 v2). If we use that figure instead of the average of “20,000-25,000” the increase at 2015 (with the amended data) is still a remarkable 16%.

Update 26 Feb 2017. Original image replaced, without % calculation.

Update 1 March 2017. Crockford 2017 updated, Version 3 is now the most recent available.

References

Aars, J., Marques, T.A., Buckland, S.T., Andersen, M., Belikov, S., Boltunov, A., et al. 2009. Estimating the Barents Sea polar bear subpopulation. Marine Mammal Science 25:35-52.

Amstrup, S.C.,Marcot, B.G. and Douglas,D.C. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. Administrative Report, US Geological Survey. Reston, Virginia. 8.8 MB pdf here [may no longer be available online]

Armstrong, J.S., Green, K.C. and Soon, W. 2008. Polar bear population forecasts: A public-policy forecasting audit. Interfaces 38:382–405.

Crockford, S.J. 2017 v3. 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

Fauchald, P., Arneberg, P., Berge, J., Gerland, S., Kovacs, K.M., Reigstad, M. and Sundet, J.H. 2014. An assessment of MOSJ – the state of the marine environment around Svalbard and Jan Mayen. Norwegian Polar Institute Report Series no. 145. Available at http://www.mosj.no/en/documents/

SWG [Scientific Working Group to the Canada-Greenland Joint Commission on Polar Bear]. 2016. Re-Assessment of the Baffin Bay and Kane Basin Polar Bear Subpopulations: Final Report to the Canada-Greenland Joint Commission on Polar Bear. +636 pp. http://www.gov.nu.ca/documents-publications/349

IUCN Specialist Group quietly adds “sea ice changes” to their polar bear status table

In late January, the IUCN PBSG made significant changes to its polar bear status table but did not think it was worth bringing to the public’s attention via a tweet, press release or note on their web site’s home page.

Hudson Bay female with cub_Wapusk_Thorsten Milse_Gov CA

What changes? Well, while the group did not see fit to agree with all of Environment Canada’s assessments (e.g. listing Davis Strait bears as “likely increasing” compared to the PBSG’s “stable”, see full list here), it did upgrade their status of Western Hudson Bay bears to ‘stable’ (which EC did back in June 2014).

More significantly, however, they also added two metrics of sea ice change to their assessment table, presumably because alongside ‘human-caused removals’ (which they also track in their tables)1, sea ice changes are supposedly critical ‘threats’ to polar bear health and survival.

So critical, in fact, that they’ve only just now gotten around to measuring it consistently across polar bear territory. Funny thing is, they cite no document that shows the sea ice change calculations for each subpopulation region, nor who generated them.

Let me be clear: no one has ever generated such a sea ice metric before – it is a unique PBSG construct that you will find nowhere else. By providing no documentation that lays out the calculations for inspection, the PBSG are simply insisting the public accept their unpublished, non-peer-reviewed work on faith. Details below.
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Record sea ice loss in 2007 had no effect on polar bears, Chukchi study confirms

One aspect of the recently published study on Chukchi Sea polar bears (Rode et al.2014 [now in print] 2013; see here and here) has not been stressed enough: their finding that the differences in overall condition between bears in the Chukchi and Southern Beaufort Seas came down to disparities in spring feeding opportunities and therefore, the condition of spring sea ice.

The fact that spring — not summer — is the most critical period for polar bears is something I’ve pointed out before (see here and here, for example) but it’s worth repeating at this time of year, when all eyes are on the annual ice minimum. It is often treated as a given that the decline in extent of summer sea ice in the Arctic since 1979 has been detrimental to polar bears. However, this is an assumption that we can now say is not supported by scientific evidence (see summary of that evidence here).

The results published by Rode et al. (2014 2013) not only add further support to the conclusion that declines in summer sea ice have not harmed polar bears, but should put the matter to rest – unless new evidence to the contrary is produced.

Chukchi bears, the report tells us, had more food available in the spring than Southern Beaufort bears (see map below) and this was the primary reason that bears were doing very well in the Chukchi and not quite as well in the Southern Beaufort. And because the polar bears for this study were captured and measured in mid-March to early May, from 2008 to 2011, they reflect spring-time conditions for 2008-2011 as well as year-round conditions from 2007 through 2010.

This means that the annual low ice extent for 2007 (record-breaking at the time), in the fall before this study began, had no discernible negative effect on either Chukchi or Southern Beaufort polar bears – and neither did similarly low annual minimums in two of the three remaining years of the study (Fig 1).

Figure 1. Sea ice extent at August 27, 2007 – the lowest extent that year (downloaded September 15, 2013 from IARC-JAXA, Arctic Sea-ice Monitor). At the time, it was the lowest extent recorded since 1979 (2012 broke that record). This (2007) was the fall before the Rode & Regehr study on Chukchi/Southern Beaufort polar bears began (2008-2011). The ice was almost as low in September 2008 and 2010, while 2009 was more like 2013.

Figure 1. Sea ice extent at August 27, 2007 – the lowest extent that year (downloaded September 15, 2013 from IARC-JAXA, Arctic Sea-ice Monitor). At the time, it was the lowest extent recorded since 1979 (2012 broke that record). This (2007) was the fall before the Rode & Regehr study on Chukchi/Southern Beaufort polar bears began (2008-2011). The ice was almost as low in 2008 and 2010, while 2009 was more like 2013.

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