According to NSIDC daily sea ice interactive graph, there was ever so slightly more ice on 31 Dec 2016 than on that date in 2010. However, the corresponding ice maps show just how differently that ice was distributed.
Recall that in 2010, there was no huge die-off of polar bears attributed to reduced amounts of sea ice in the fall (or to reduced ice in summer, for that matter) because there was no catastrophic die-off at all.
Arctic sea ice is spreading out quickly from its central basin summer refuge – according to this NSIDC Masie ice chart, it has already grown more than 2 mkm2 beyond the annual minimum reached in early September. Ice is already pushing south into the eastern Beaufort and the archipelago of Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea.
Over the next couple of weeks, shorefast ice will start forming along the coasts of North America and Eurasia (see the first bits off Alaska in the 21 October CIS map below), which will eventually meet the expanding Arctic Basin pack to fill the Basin and Canadian Arctic Archipelago with ice – as it has done for eons.
The evidence from the last decade or so suggests that by the end of October, most of the Arctic north of the 79th parallel (see map below) will be filled with ice – although the Chukchi Sea (north of the Bering Strait) may not fill until sometime in November:
Polar bears usually resume hunting as soon as sea ice conditions permit in the fall, since it’s their last chance to top up their fat reserves before the dark and cold of winter when hunting may become next to impossible.
I’ve copied ice charts from the Masie archives for some previous years at 31 October below.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged 79th parallel, Arctic, Barents Sea, Beaufort Sea, Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Chukchi Sea, fall ice growth, hunting, MASIE, NSIDC, platform, polar bears
Never mind that the sea ice maximum this year came almost a month later than last year (and close to latest since 1979) – and was lower by only .02 – the US National Sea Ice Data Center (NSIDC) today trumpeted a new record low. What this means to polar bears, if anything, remains to be seen.
2015: maximum set February 25 (day 56), at 14.54 mkm2
2016: maximum set March 24 (day 84), at 14.52 mkm2
[The difference in area? Smaller than the Islands of the Bahamas]
Latest maximum extent (since 1979) occurred in 2010 on April 2 (Day 92).
The average date for maximum extent is March 12.
I note, however, that given the lateness of the winter sea ice surge meant that the amount of ice present at 24 March 2016 (see NSIDC Interactive) was more than was present on the same date in 2006, 2007 and 2015.
Clearly, there was plenty enough sea ice in the spring of those years for most polar bears to hunt seals successfully and put on the weight they needed to survive the summer fast ahead. I see no reason to expect 2016 to be different.
Polar bear habitat in the Arctic Basin this year appears to have reached its apex days earlier than average. As of 12 September, freeze-up of Arctic sea ice had begun. Unless something dramatic happens over the next few days, this will make 2015 the earliest September minimum since at least 2007, using NSIDC data.1
The two lowest September ice extents (2007 and 2012) were also both later than average; this year’s minimum is the fourth lowest (see chart below).
Of course, all this fuss about how low the September minimum gets is irrelevant to polar bears: they are either on land or in the Arctic Basin, and virtually all are living off stored fat no matter where they are (see Arctic Basin bear here). What matters is when the refrozen ice reaches pregnant females that have preferred denning spots onshore (like in Svalbard) or for bears onshore waiting to return to the ice to hunt (like Davis Strait, and Western and Southern Hudson Bay bears). We won’t know that until October (for Svalbard) or November (for E. Canada).
Again, no sea ice death spiral or polar bears in peril because of it.
UPDATE 15 September 2015, 11:00 am PDT: Just published at the NSIDC website, 2015 minimum has been (tentatively) called at 4.41 mkm2, confirming my figure taken from their interactive graph (see below). However, despite the fact that their own data show that sea ice extent stayed at that value for three days, NSIDC has chosen the last day of that 3-day period rather than the first to represent the 2015 minimum. Go figure. That makes 2015 tied with 2011 for the earliest date for their official records, which seems more than a little self-serving and means I’m not changing the title of my post. NSIDC have also modified slightly some of the official extent figures for past minimums (added below) but it doesn’t really change anything.
Posted in Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, death spiral, fast, freeze-up, habitat, MASIE, melt, minimum, NSIDC, polar bear, sea ice, September, summer
At this time of year, sea ice extent numbers are meaningless for polar bears. The extreme low September minimum of 2012 – when masses of polar bears didn’t die – showed rational people that this is true. Even the low 2007 summer extent, which hit earlier in the season than 2012, had little to no negative impact.
In late summer, bears outside the Canadian Archipelago either retreat to shore or stay on the sea ice as it retreats north into the Arctic Basin (see image below, click to enlarge). Most bears in the Archipelago have ice year round, so life doesn’t change much. This means that it does not matter to polar bears how much area the Arctic Basin ice covers in September – for their needs, 1.0 mkm2 would be plenty.
Still, Southern Hudson Bay polar bears had extended hunting opportunities in July this year (whether or not they hunted successfully) and for this date, Hudson Bay had more ice remaining than any year on record. Yes, more than even 1992 but only by a few percent. See charts and maps below.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic basin, fasting, habitat, Hudson Bay, MASIE, minimum, passive microwave, polar bear, sea ice, September, starving, summer, thin ice
From the end of October to mid-December, there has been a rapid expansion of polar bear habitat.
This month, I’ve constructed two all-in-one images that show the progressive growth of the ice relative to some critical polar bear onshore summer refuge areas and denning territory. I’ve also included a map that compares 2013 to 2009 at 18 December with the average for the 1980s, and one that shows ice thickness.
Posted in Sea ice habitat
Tagged Canadian Ice Service, dens, ice development, MASIE, onshore, polar bear, polar bear habitat, sea ice extent, sea ice thickness, sea ice volume, winter ice