The freeze is on: from an annual low of ~5.1 m sq km at 15 September 2014, the sea ice that provides a hunting platform for polar bears is rapidly reforming.
Note that polar bear habitat world-wide is pretty well defined by the extent of sea ice in spring, with three notable exceptions. There are no polar bears (or fossil evidence of polar bears), in the Sea of Okhotsk, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, or the Baltic Sea.
Bears in some areas spend time on land in late summer/early fall but the amount of time varies widely.
Have a look at the maps below: the difference in regional coverage between the sea ice at 4 August and 16 October (73 days apart, both covering 7.3 mkm2) might surprise you.
I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again now that the sea ice in the Arctic is approaching its seasonal maximum extent and thickness: polar bears are limited by winter sea ice extent (Fig.1), not by the minimum extent of ice in the summer. Otherwise, their distribution would resemble the summer sea ice minimum (Fig. 2), not the winter maximum.
Despite the hue and cry about “declining sea ice,” polar bears are still as well distributed throughout their available winter habitat as they were in 1979, when detailed sea ice records began – see the map below. See further details on polar bear distribution here.
Figure 1. Polar bear distribution map (adapted from the one provided by the PBSG) compared to sea ice concentration at Feb 28 (at or near the seasonal maximum extent) 1979 and 2013. I can’t see a difference – can you see a difference? The only place there is consistently sea ice in winter but not polar bears is the Sea of Okhotsk, but there is no evidence that polar bears have ever lived there despite the presence of seals. Click to enlarge
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