Monthly Archives: November 2014

Beaufort Sea Polar Bears

Three days ago I read an article dramatizing the rapid reduction in Polar Bear populations in a sub-region of the Arctic.  The Beaufort Sea population had been reduced by 40% between 2004 and 2010.  I was a bit surprised by this statistic because I had seen many recent articles that had said Polar Bear populations had not been in recent decline.

I wondered if it was a regional issue or was it really the beginning of the end for the Polar Bear.  And then I read a bit more.   The 2010 Polar Bear population estimate was 900 bears down from 1250-2000 in 2004.  How can we have a precise number for 2010 and such a wide range only 6 years earlier?  Have we become expert Polar Bear counters in just 6 years?  Perhaps the 900 bears is a range value too.  If so what is the range?

The article used indirect counting methods so there must have been a range of values.  Bears were tagged and then survival rates of bears found years later were compared to past data.  Incomplete data in Canada in 2004 explained the range in the 2004 to 2006 data.   OK, but 900 sounds like an estimate to me.  The study might be an excellent proxy; it is beyond my expertise.  I still want more precise data.

And that is only the beginning of this data accumulation problem.  We really don’t have much data…and that is a big problem.

I wonder how many bears were wandering around in 1940 at the end of the last mini warming cycle?  Perhaps 2000 bears is too many for the local ecosystem?   How did Polar Bears fare some 130,000 years ago when sea level was 6 meters higher than it is today?  And how have the bears fared since 2010.  Why is there no recent update?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions.   I’d go a step further and say that nobody really knows.  But too many of the scientists studying the recent decline KNOW the cause, reduced sea ice. And these same scientists seem to know why the sea ice has reduced, man caused climate change!

Maybe, maybe not.

Sea ice data is only 34 years old. And the best data is only 4 years old.  Just 4 years ago we began accumulating accurate data on sea ice thickness?  Anyone interested can visit the Snow and Ice Data Center website.

What has happened to Polar Bear populations since 2010? How have other regions in the Arctic fared?  What were the Polar Bear populations 40 years ago when hunting was allowed?  Or 400 years ago, during the little ice age?  Or 40,000 years ago when there was lots more ice, ice all the way down to NYC?

So many questions!  Oh yes, two more questions.  Did they need a global warming angle to get funding for their study?  And who paid for the study?

Don’t get me wrong.  I think man probably has caused some of the impacts being witnessed.  How much is an extraordinarily difficult science problem.  I wish society were be a bit more circumspect.  Sometimes problems are not that simple   All too often we humans looks for easy simple answers to difficult complicated questions.

 

 

 

 

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