Most polar bears that spend the spring feeding in the peripheral seas of the Arctic Basin (such as the Beaufort, Chukchi, Kara, and Barents Seas) remain on the persistent pack ice of the central Arctic during the summer and this August, that refugium is still larger than Greenland. Most of these bears do not use this July-September Arctic Basin ice as a hunting platform unless they are very lucky: the few seals available are hard to catch. For the most part, polar bears fast or eat very little during the summer whether they are on land or on ice (see references in this post).
Since early June, sea ice experts have been wringing their hands over the melting of Arctic sea ice and offering breathless speculation that this year’s September minimum could be – gasp! – as low as or less than 2012 or even less. But now, as the graph of ice cover at 28 August shows below, that outcome is looking not just unlikely but virtually impossible (the blue line is 2019 extent, red dashed line is 2012, and the brown line is 2016):
As expected, the failure of the ice to remain on track to set a new record September low due to global warming is shrugged off with a reminder that summer ice extent “is sensitive to changes in daily weather conditions.”
Polar bear populations in most of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (CAA) must be booming, as they are elsewhere. That’s because the ‘experts’ were even more wrong in their predictions of future sea ice conditions than most people realize: they expected the CAA would remain choked with ice during a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer driven by human-caused global warming.
Map presented by Wang and Overland (2012: Fig 3) shows what these experts thought a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer would look like, which they expected to occur by 2030 or so.
Look at the map from Wang and Overland (2012) above, which is what they thought a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer would look like in the year 2030 or so.
Wang and Overland used the same models used by USGS biologists to predict the future survival of polar bears based on habitat loss (Amstrup et al. 2007; Atwood et al. 2016; Durner et al. 2007, 2009). Note the thick ice in the CAA — what USGS experts call the ‘Archipelago’ sea ice ecoregion (denoted by white in the map), indicating ice about 1 metre thick (2-3 feet) — expected to remain at the height of summer in 2030.
[Earlier renditions of sea ice projections (e.g. ACIA 2005) show something similar. The second update of the ACIA released just yesterday (AMAP 2017, described here by the CBC) has prudently included no such firm predictions in their Summary for Policy Makers, just dire warnings of future catastrophe. But see the 2012 update.]
The problem is that ice in this region has been largely absent most summers since 2006, even though overall ice extent has been much more extensive than expected for a ‘nearly ice-free’ summer, as I show below.
This is not another “worse than we thought” moment (Amstrup et al. 2007) — this is sea ice models so wrong as to be useless: failed models used to inform future polar bear survival models that got the bears declared ‘threatened’ with extinction in the US in 2008 (Crockford 2017).
It also means polar bears are almost certainly doing much better than recent population counts indicate, since only one subpopulation out of the six in the CAA has recently been assessed. But since polar bear specialists have consistently underestimated the adaptability of this species and the resilience of the Arctic ecosystem to respond to changing conditions, it’s hard to take any of their hyperbole about the future of polar bears seriously. Continue reading
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Crockford, first year ice, Gulf of Boothia, ice-free, IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, IUCN Red List, Kane Basin, Lancaster Sound, multiyear ice, Northwest Passage, PBSG, predictions, sea ice, wrong
“Blizzards, we had fog — we had to sleep in the helicopter, on the sea ice one night, because we couldn’t fly anywhere,” Markus Dyck, senior polar bear biologist with the GN, told Nunatsiaq News Sept. 5.”
Fog was the theme of polar bear research this summer in Queen Maud Gulf, otherwise known as the M’Clintock Channel polar bear subpopulation region.
The ice has been heavy in that region as well, according to a the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and reported yesterday in another story (“Heavy pack ice in NW Passage ice creates tough conditions this year: Pack ice clogs Queen Maud Gulf“).
For maps showing where M’Clintock Channel and Queen Maud Gulf actually are, see the maps — and more quotes — below.
Posted in Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged biopsy dart, heavy sea ice, helicopter survey, M'Clintock Channel, Markus Dyck, Northwest Passage, NSIDC, polar bear, population estimate, population survey, Queen Maud Gulf, tagging
The polar bear subpopulation designated as Lancaster Sound lies at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage in the Canadian High Arctic (Fig.1). We rarely hear about it but this region has one of the largest polar bear populations anywhere in the Arctic – only the Barents Sea and Foxe Basin have higher estimated population sizes.
Figure 1. Polar bear subpopulations with Lancaster Sound marked. Map courtesy IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group, additional labels added.
Lancaster Sound includes the communities of Arctic Bay on northwestern Baffin Island and Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island. Devon Island, which lies on the northern boundary, has no permanent communities, although two research stations are present (see here and here). A more detailed map showing the exact boundaries is available in Vongraven and Peacock (2011).
The eastern portion of Lancaster Sound is generally clear of ice by late summer (hence the Northwest Passage) but the western third of the region not only retains pack ice later in the season but some multiyear ice remains throughout the year.
The proximity of Lancaster Sound to Baffin Bay and the eastern Northwest Passage (Fig.2) undoubtedly exposed polar bears there to hunting by European whalers during the 1800s and early 1900s (see previous post here, especially Fig. 5), from which the population appears to have recovered.
On the other hand, the proximity of Lancaster Sound to oil and gas reserves further north in the High Arctic generated much-needed funds for polar bear biologists in the mid-to-late 1970s to collect essential baseline data for the entire region (Schweinsburg et al. 1982; Stirling et al. 1979, 1984; Stirling and Latour 1978).
Figure 2. The main Northwest Passage route starts at Lancaster Sound and runs east through Parry Channel because these waterways routinely clear of ice in late summer. The approximate boundary of the Lancaster Sound polar bear subpopulation is marked in yellow; POW is Prince of Wales Island. Map from Wikipedia, labels added. Click to enlarge.
Posted in Conservation Status, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic Bay, baffin bay, Barents Sea, Chukchi Sea, Davis Strait, Devon Island, fossil fuels, Foxe Basin, funding from oil companies, Lancaster Sound, male-biased hunting, natural gas, Northwest Passage, over-harvest, PBSG, Polar Bear Specialist Group, population estimate, Resolute Bay, Rode, Schweinsburg, sea ice decline, Stirling, Taylor