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
Due to the atypical pattern of sea ice melt on Hudson Bay this year, 2015 will definitely be a later than average breakup year – perhaps not as late as 1992 but maybe almost as late as 2009. Easing into the first days of Arctic summer, there is still a lot of polar bear habitat left on Hudson Bay, especially in the east.
Although official breakup in 2009 was only a little later than usual (9 July), bears came ashore about the same time (after mid-August) as they did in 1992, when breakup was very late (30 July). With the pattern this year being so unusual (and the melt so slow over the last few weeks), who knows how late it could be before the last bears leave the ice in 2015?
There is definitely more sea ice this year on the bay than there was last year, when breakup was about average for the last 24 years.
UPDATE 2 July 2015: CIS weekly ice coverage graphs added to the end of this post. Hudson Bay ice highest since 2009 and Davis Strait highest since 1994! Have a look.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Arctic, breakup, Cherry, CIS, Derocher, habitat, Hudson Bay, ice melt, McCall, NSIDC, polar bear, Polar Bears International, satellite collars, science, sea ice, sea ice concentration, Southern Hudson Bay, western hudson bay
Good news from Norway: polar bears around Svalbard are in excellent condition this spring and many females with new cubs have been spotted. This is a marked turn around from conditions just last year.
According to a Norwegian news outlet yesterday, Jon Aars (Fig. 1, below), from the Norwegian Polar Institute, confirms that this has been an excellent year for polar bear cubs around Svalbard because there has been abundant sea ice near denning areas on the east coast.
Figure 1. Biologist Jon Aars with a Svalbard cub.
Posted in Conservation Status, Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged AMO, Arctic, Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, Barents Sea, body condition, cubs, denning, fall, Franz Josef Land, Jon Aars, Madden-Julian Oscillation, Norwegian Polar Institute, NSIDC, polar bear, science, sea ice, spring, Svalbard, winter
Preferred polar bear habitat is said to be 50% concentration or higher over continental shelves, which describes all but the fringes of sea ice extent today, including Hudson Bay, the Southern Beaufort, and the Barents Sea.
However, polar bears – excellent swimmers that they are – are quite capable of utilizing areas with 15-50% sea ice concentration if necessary (Durner et al. 2004; Rode et al. 2014:79), especially when prey are plentiful. This would account for the fact that there are still sightings of polar bears in and around northern Newfoundland (see previous post here and photo below1), where ice concentration is in the 30-50% range.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, Beaufort Sea, Canadian Ice Service, Davis Strait, harp seal, hunting, Labrador, Newfoundland, NSIDC, polar bear, preferred habitat, sea ice, sea ice concentration, spring ice conditions
Arctic ice extent (at 14.1mkm2) on 15 April, was virtually identical to 2014 on that date, and higher than 2006. But the record goes to Davis Strait, which recorded the highest ice extent since 1971 for the week of April 16, while the waters of Eastern Newfoundland to the south (where most harp seals have their pups) had the third highest ice extent since 1969. Lots of fat baby seals are just what polar bears need at this time of year.
Posted in Life History, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Barents Sea, Canadian Ice Service, Davis Strait, harp seal, Newfoundland, NSIDC, polar bear, sea ice, seals, spring sea ice
Here are some facts to counter the misinformation and fearmongering being spread via twitter by a polar bear biologist who is getting carried away with his conservation activism.
Following up on my last post, I note that Arctic regions with sea ice but not polar bears were about 0.32 mkm2 below last year’s March average extent – which means the total ice decline from 2014 (0.4 mkm2) represents only a slight decline in polar bear habitat, most of which is in the Barents Sea (and due primarily to the state of the AMO, not global warming).
Sea ice extent for the Sea of Okhotsk and Baltic Sea combined (both areas without polar bears)1 were about 0.6 mkm2 below average this year for March. Average extent for March (according to NSIDC) is 15.5 mkm2, which means this year’s extent (14.4 mkm2) was 1.1 mkm2 below average, of which less than half (0.5 mkm2) was “lost” polar bear habitat.
IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group biologist Andrew Derocher has been saying this is a “huge loss for polar bears” (see below): rational analysis of the facts show it is not. Continue reading
Posted in Advocacy, Sea ice habitat
Tagged activism, Baltic Sea, Barents Sea, Derocher, fearmongering, loss, maximum extent, misinformation, NSIDC, polar bear, record low, sea ice, Sea of Okhotsk, spring, spring ice
Only half or less of the estimated 2.6% loss per decade of March sea ice extent since 1979 (Fig. 1, below) represents a decline in polar habitat. That’s because several regions with sea ice that are not home to polar bears, like the Sea of Okhotsk, are included in Arctic sea ice totals.
Figure 1. Average monthly Arctic sea ice extent for March 1979-2015 (which includes ice in the Sea of Okhotsk, the Sea of Japan, and the Baltic, where polar bears do not live), shows a decline of 2.6% per decade. NSIDC, March summary 2015.
Both the Sea of Okhotsk and northern Sea of Japan (Fig. 2) have sea ice in winter (which is included in total Arctic sea ice records) but they are not truly “Arctic” – neither is connected to the Arctic by continuous ice, even when the ice is at its maximum extent (nor is the Baltic Sea — in contrast to Hudson Bay and the east coast of North America, which are connected to the Arctic by continuous ice).
Figure 2. Location of the Sea of Okhotsk and Sea of Japan. Insert ice map for March 1979 from NSIDC shows it’s position relative to the Arctic proper.
That lack of connection to Arctic pack ice is probably the main reason that polar bears never colonized the Sea of Okhotsk, even though western Arctic seal species (ringed, bearded, spotted, and ribbon) and Arctic whales (bowhead and beluga) live there. Polar bears don’t currently live in the Sea of Okhotsk and all evidence suggests they never have.
Sea ice maps show that about half of the total ice extent difference between March 1979 and March 2015 was due to a relatively large decline in sea ice cover for Sea of Okhotsk and northern Sea of Japan — regions without polar bears. Surely no reputable scientist or journalist would suggest that the “record low” maximum ice extent for 2015 has any relevance for polar bear health and survival? [or for Northwest Passage travel, for that matter] Sadly, they would.
Posted in Conservation Status, Sea ice habitat
Tagged Arctic, declining sea ice, Derocher, habitat, lost ice, lowest maximum extent, March, misinformation, NSIDC, polar bear, record low, sea ice, sea ice extent, sea ice maximum, Sea of Okhotsk, spring, variation