Tag Archives: Norway

Less Svalbard polar bear habitat during the early Holocene than now

Svalbard in the western Barents Sea has recently had less sea ice extent than it had in the 1980s, especially in the west and north, but this is not unprecedented.

Svalbard polar bear_Aars August 2015-NP058930_press release

New evidence from clams and mussels with temperature-sensitive habitat requirements confirm that warmer temperatures and less sea ice than today existed during the early Holocene period about 10.2–9.2 thousand years ago and between 8.2 and 6.0 thousand years ago (based on radio carbon dates) around Svalbard. Barents Sea polar bears almost certainly survived those previous low-ice periods, as they are doing today, by staying close to the Franz Josef Land Archipelago in the eastern half of the region where sea ice is more persistent.

As this sea ice chart for 18 April 2018 shows, ice this month has been virtually absent from the west and north coasts of the Svalbard Archipelago, while Franz Josef Land to the east is surrounded by highly concentrated pack and land-fast ice.

Barents Sea ice 2018 April 18 NIS

From a new paper by Jan Mangerud and John Svendsen (2018) [my bold]:

Svalbard, located between 74° and 81°N, is the warmest place on Earth at this latitude (Drange et al., 2013). This is because of the North Atlantic Current and large-scale atmospheric circulation which transport warm water and air masses from lower latitudes northwards across the Atlantic and along the coast of Norway to Svalbard (Figure 1). Yet, during the Holocene Thermal Maximum, the climate of Svalbard was considerably warmer than at present.

The transition from Younger Dryas cold to Holocene Thermal Maximum warm conditions took place very rapidly, according to records from nearby Greenland (Taylor et al. 1997), warming in “steps” of about five years each over a period of about 40 years. This was at least as fast, if not faster than, recent Arctic warming between the 1980s and 2015. And since polar bears of the Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic areas appear to have survived this change to Holocence Thermal Maximum conditions, it challenges the notion that recent warming has been (or will be) too fast to allow polar bears to survive without huge changes in their present distribution (Amstrup et al. 2007).
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Early Holocene polar bear skeleton from Norway vs. other ancient remains

A press release issued yesterday (23 January 2018) by the University of Stavanger tells the story of decades of work on the most complete ancient polar bear skeleton in the world, found in 1976 in southern Norway, that culminated in an articulated museum display. This specimen was described in my research paper, Annotated Map of Ancient Polar Bear Remains of the World (Crockford 2012), which shows how many very early Holocene remains have been found outside current polar bear range.

Finn the ice age polar bear skeleton_U Stavanger_photo 2

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Franz Josef Land is a sea ice refugium for most pregnant Barents Sea polar bears

Consensus polar bear expert Andrew Derocher has been busy over the last few weeks, expounding a story of doom regarding Svalbard area polar bears (e.g. here and here), ridiculing the suggestion that Franz Josef Land is viable alternate habitat for Barents Sea bears, especially pregnant females looking for a place to den and give birth. But the facts say otherwise.

Svalbard polar bear_Aars August 2015-NP058930_press release

Below are the long answers, with references and ice maps, to the questions Derocher asked in his 21 December 2017 tweet (above), a refreshing change from the ‘take my word for it, I’m the official expert’ answer one gets from him, along with derogatory slurs directed at those who don’t share his pessimism.

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Barents Sea polar bear research in the good old days – 1968/69 – with video

Here is some old footage shot in 1968-1969 of four Dutch researchers – none of whom had any experience with large carnivores – sent to study polar bears at Kapp Lee on Edgeøya (eastern Svalbard). It’s in Dutch so I don’t know what they’re saying but given the choice of music (Beatles, “All You Need is Love”) I can guess the message.

Still, the images are kind of cool, it’s interesting to see how research was conducted at the time by inexperienced personnel. FYI, I began my university studies in 1968, I was not much younger than these students at the time.

Overwintering Spitsbergen 1968-1969 [Uploaded to youtube 21 October 2012; length 45:55]

Description: In the winter of 1968-1969 stayed four Dutch students on the island Edgeøya east of Spitsbergen to do research as to polar bears. During that expedition, this film made by Paul van de Bosch and Hans Sweet and exhibited by the NOS on Dutch television in 1969. 

[Barents Sea polar bear subpopulation background here and here]

I found some additional background that I’ve included below, which shows how naive these young men were, although clearly they had enthusiasm. Dutch researcher Piet Oosterveld was one of the original four on the 1968 expedition and according to a recent news report (see below), will accompany a new expedition to study the effects of global warming. Map below is from the Dutch News story cited below. Spoiler alert: in 1987, Oosterveld was attacked by a polar bear and seriously injured, blamed in part on the rapid increase in polar bear numbers due to their protected status.

Dutch expedition route map
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PBI Facebook posts on Stirling’s polar bear that “died of climate change” have disappeared

It seems the two PBI Facebook posts about polar bear expert Ian Stirling’s bear that supposedly “died of climate change” last summer, which included some scathing comments and links to this blog, were removed sometime between late August 2013 and yesterday, when I happened to look for them.

See the screen-caps below. The first one, posted August 6, linked to the original Guardian article on the Svalbard bear and added some activist spin for good measure!

Polar Bears International Facebook_Aug 6

The second one, posted August 8, linked to an PBI news item that introduced a PBI blog post written by Stirling, in which he attempted some damage control.1

PBI link to Stirlings blog post on the bear that died of climate change_with activist spin_Aug 8 2013

[Reprise: Stirling speculated that a 16 year old bear found emaciated and dead in Svalbard, three months after it had been captured by researchers in good condition, had died of starvation due to lack of sea ice caused by global warming. Guardian writers transformed this into a bear that “died of climate change.” No mention from in the original story that 16 years is near the maximum life expectancy for male bears in the wild, that death by starvation is the usual cause of death for very old bears, or that other bears in the area were doing just fine (based on the fact that the Norwegian team working that area had just posted their data online). See my original post here, followup here, Featured Quote #44, here and footnote below]

Stirling himself (a “scientific advisor” to Polar Bears International, PBI), and the-polar-bears-are-dying message generally, took a big hit over that incident. But attempting to rewrite history? See the screen-cap below, taken yesterday (pdf here):

PBI_Fan Photo Day Aug 6 to Aug 13 gap_Svalbard bear story gone_April 29 2014

The deletion of these two entire entries suggests that PBI and Ian Stirling would rather their faithful Facebook followers and donors not have a chance to revisit the scathing comments and links to this blog. I assume it is the comments and links that were the offending parts, since Stirling’s blog post at PBI is still there, and of course, the news stories carried elsewhere are still out there. So instead of deleting comments, they removed the entire posts.

Good thing I saved screen caps of many of the more critical comments, from at least two PBI Facebook followers I’ve never heard of — have a look. [August 6th post was also captured by the cache machine]
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