Tag Archives: Polar bears

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.






Polar Bears, Whales, Climate Science and Exxon


What  a day. Four different articles in Section One of the Anchorage Daily News worthy of a post.  Most days nothing catches my eye.  Not today….well it is April Fools Day.

  1. UN Court orders Japan to halt Antarctic whaling was the feature page 1 story of the day.   The court voted 12 to 4 against the Japanese claim that killing up to 1000 whales a year was a form of scientific research.
  2. Researchers use DNA to trace lineage of polar bears was also a page one story.  A University of Alaska Fairbanks study used DNA evidence to demonstrate that the Polar Bear, Black Bear and Brown Bear have specific genetic histories.   The article went on to discuss the Endangered Species Act and the use of computer models to try to place the Polar Bear on the Endangered Species List.
  3. Exxon: Climate Change Policy Highly Unlikely to Limit Fossil Fuel Sales appeared on Page 3.   This article featured arguments between Exxon scientists and Environmental scientists about the relative costs and benefits of fossil fuels to society.  Surprise…they disagree.
  4. UN report: Global warming dials up our risks made it’s appearance on page 5.  The UN released a 32-volume report on climate on Monday.   This AP article discussed the impact climate change will have on food production.  The article talked about the impacts on poor people and the impacts on fine wine and coffee too.

There you have it, four wonderful April Fools Day treats in the first five pages of  my local paper.

Article 1 – Whaling in Antarctica

Apparently, last year the UN’s highest court had a trail.  In that trial, the Japanese government claimed that killing up to 1000 whales a year in the Antarctic was being done as a form of scientific research.

The Japanese position fails the laugh test.  When a legal position is so bad that others witnessing the lawsuit might actually laugh during the argument, that position has failed the laugh test.  Trust me, no lawyer wants to present a position that fails the laugh test.  Japan just failed.

This story says  something about Japan and about the UN too. 4 judges agreed with the Japanese position?!  And it took the court months and months to come to this conclusion?  World politics is a constant source of amazement.

Article 2 – Polar Bears

When I first started reading about Polar Bears, the conventional wisdom was that they became a distinct species about 200,000 years ago.   Perhaps two years ago, early DNA studies changed that to 600,000 and then another study last year said it could be as high is 4 million years.   This study pegs the change at 1.2 million years plus or minus.  And the study acknowledges that the time clock being used is approximate.

The lead scientist, Dr. Matthew Cronin, has been a vocal critic of the Endangered Species Act.   He has made, according to the article,  the following statements about the listing of the Polar Bear as an endangered species

It seems logical that if polar bears survived previous warm, ice free periods, the could survive another.


This is of course speculation, but so is predicting they will not survive, as the proponents of the Endangered Species Act listing of polar bears have done.


I don’t think you should base endangered species on predictions and models.  It should be focused on real-world problems.

All this was music to my ears. No so for Dr Steven C. Amstrup, principal author of the report recommending the ESA listing.  He called Dr Cronin’s study incautious and misleading.  Dr. Amstrup then pointed out that the current warming cycle was happening much more rapidly than had previous cycles.

Wrong.  The world is predicted by IPCC climate scientists to begin rapid warming soon. The World has been warming for over 200 years, but most of that has been natural climate variation.  The 2007 IPCC Climate Synopses predicted immediate warming.  The world was supposed to be about .2 degree C warmer than it is right now and that warming was supposed to accelerate with time.  The IPCC was wrong.

Warming to date is well within the normal range of the last 10,000 years.  The Earth warmed at a relatively rapid rate between 1993 and 1998, which also included a climate changing volcanic eruption and a strong El Nino.  Warming stopped and has been relatively stable since 1998 as this Satellite Temperature chart demonstrates:


Perhaps Dr. Amstrup is just a tiny bit defensive.   He based all his arguments on climate models that have …at least so far…been wrong.

Article 3 Exxon vs Environmentalists

This article seemed perfect to me for April 1st.   Exxon and the Environmental lobby differ on the relative value of fossil fuels.   Duh!  Talk about a firm grasp on the obvious.   The article can be summed up by a single paragraph about halfway through the article.

Exxon and the environmental groups agree that climate change is a risk and that society will take steps to reduce emissions from fossil fuels to slow the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  They differ, however, on how drastic society’s response could be, and what would cost more — severely restricting fossil fuel consumption or not doing so and allowing more carbon dioxide to build up in the atmosphere.

Exxon thinks emissions will peak in about 2030.  The peak level of emissions will be less a risk than the environmental lobby predicts.    I have no idea where the truth lies.  Vested interests are everywhere.   The article really broke no new ground and provided no new information.

Article 4 — UN Report on Climate

Our local paper ran an AP story titled UN Report: Global warming dials up our risks in today’s paper.  I cannot find the article at AP or at adn.com (The Anchorage Daily News website).  I found stories with the same title.   I also found a story with the same title written by the same AP writer, but the story was completely different.  The Anchorage Daily News has a history of editing AP articles, so I read the online AP article.   The two articles are completely different. I have never encountered this before.

It does feel a bit like an April Fools Day prank…on page 5 of the Anchorage Daily News.

My local newspaper version of the AP story is an awful story.  It focuses solely on food supply issues caused by global climate change.   I wish I could find a way to link it.   The article mixes starvation in India with fine wine and coffee in the developed world.  Global climate change will change food availability and costs according to the article.  And not in a good way.

The article talked about potential starvation in India.     Yep, as India goes from a country with a billion people to a country with 1.5 billion people, food is going to become more of an issue.   Perhaps birth control or lack thereof might be a part of India’s food supply problem.   Maybe even more important than carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere?



Arctic Ice Sheet Growing Rapidly

I have been traveling around Europe since late October.  Alaska greeted me with bone chilling cold as I exited the airport terminal on Sunday.  As I write this blog, the temperature at my house sits at a balmy -7 F (-21 C for everybody but the USA).  It has been cold most of the time I was gone.

This got me wondering about the Arctic Ice Sheet.   So I wondered over to the National Snow and Ice Data Center and took a look.  The Ice sheet is growing at a surprisingly rapid rate.  The site has lots of information about the Polar Ice Cap.

When looking at this data it is helpful if you ignore the 1979-2000 average data presented in grey.  Virtually all summer data in recent years is outside the grey area which is supposed to cover 95% of all data.  The grey data set is an object lessen of poor statistical analysis.   The aforementioned website has an interactive chart with better data that displays averages and standard deviations for the entire data set, but it doesn’t transfer well, so I used this one.

2012 was a big year for summer melt….and so far it has been a big winter for ice building.   Summer data appears to vary wildly, while the winter data is much more stable.  This is likely to continue due the the nature of sea ice.  First year sea ice has a higher salt content than ice that has been in the Arctic for a while.  This higher salt content makes it melt more rapidly than ice that is older. And there’s been lots of first year ice in the data set since 2007.

People searching for benefits of global warming talk about the shorter shipping routes the Arctic represents.   Environmentalist worry about Polar Bear habitat and excess rain and snow in Europe.   Yep, they are going to happen….but you better be quick.  Summer is an extremely short season and winter seems to last forever.

So far at least, the changes seen for most of the year have been relatively small when compared to the wild variation seen in summer.    If and when the Arctic gets a cold summer following a cold winter, then we will have more second year ice…and the ice will become more stable.  But until then the ice will continue to show wild swings in summer.  It really is more a measurement of past warming, and less so a warning flag of future warming.

But is it?  Recent studies argue that yes the ice melts faster when it is warm, but it also is impacted by pollution.  Air pollution discolors the ice, making is slightly less white, which helps it absorb sunlight in summer.   So maybe it’s a marker for air pollution.  Either way first year sea ice is more a marker of past woes and less a predictor of future woes.

If the trend of a warmer more polluted world continues then the summer ice free area will probably expand.   This is not a new experience for the Arctic.   130,000 years ago the Arctic was much warmer than it is today and it is widely believed that there was  less ice then than we have now.    And 20,000 years later it was much colder.

But this analysis is probably too simplistic too.  If the ice free period expands, then snowfall in the Arctic will likely increase too, which could bring on a new ice age cold period.  Or maybe not.

The current climate cycle for the earth is 2.5 million years old.   Any effort to predict long term trends using a 35 year data base is more than a bit speculative.   Talk about wild extrapolation.  It is virtually impossible to identify a trend in a 2.5 million year system using a 35 year data base that is more reactive than predictive.

Well.   What happens next?  I don’t know.   Time will tell.

Polar Bear SWAG goes and goes

The Polar Bear has long been the poster child for global warming…and an excellent example of wild ass guessing.

We know very little about Polar Bears, but that has not stopped environmental groups from making claim after claim about the health of the species.  Polar Bears have been declared as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act because of predicted changes in the environment.  It is assumed that Polar Bear survival is directly tied to the size of the Arctic Ice Cap and that the ice cap is shrinking because of man caused events.

Good Arctic Ice Sheet Data is only 30 years old….we are all witness to wild extrapolation of that data. We are making policy decisions based on scientific wild ass guesses….or perhaps just wild ass guesses.

Today my local newspaper had a story about Polar Bear longevity.   Last March the conventional wisdom was that Polar Bears became a distinct species about 150,000 years ago.  In April that number was adjusted to 600,000 years and now (just 3 months later) it has been adjusted again to 4.5 million years.  I think it’s safe to say the first guess (150,000) was more than a little bit speculative. More WAG than SWAG.

If the Polar Bear has been around for 4.5 million years what does that mean?   Well for starters it means he is much more adaptable than previously thought.  We currently live in an Ice Age cycle that is 2.5 million years old….and it was warmer ….not colder before that cycle started.

Maybe it’s time to stop making wild ass guesses sound like statistical certainties.

Polar Bear hype at the Cleveland Science Center

I was in Cleveland last week, so I stopped by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, don’t worry I didn’t see any climate propaganda at the home of Elvis and the Beatles.   I had a great time and recommend it to anyone wandering close to Cleveland.

The Rock’s parking lot is at the Cleveland Science Center, which meant I had to walk through the lobby of the science center…and there it was smack dab in the center of the lobby, a plea for help for Polar Bears.  A very nice 4 sided display, with pretty pictures of Polar Bears floating on an iceberg.

Please send money to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)  to help save the Polar Bear.   My favorite part, two diagrams of the Arctic, one in 2005 and the other in 2050.  In the 2050 diagram…there is no summer ice.  Okay.  Let’s assume for a minute or two that the diagrams are both accurate (that the second is something other than a wild ass guess), what could the WWF possibly do to stop it?

Sure the ice cap might melt, and man might be at least partially to blame.  What plans does the WWF have to stop the melting?  Are they going to get China and India to stop their coal fired power plants, or better still get them to quit building new ones?   Maybe they have a secret way to get the 55 mph speed limit through Congress or they have a way to make Solar power economical.  And would it matter?

The Polar bear has been a species for 600,000 years, that’s 5 ice age cycles.  The Ice Cap probably melted 130,000 years ago when the world was lots warmer than it is today.  The Polar bear survived.  If it melted then, it could happen again with our without man’s assistance.

2050 is only 38 years into the future.  The National Snow and Ice Data Center  provides regular updates on the status of the Arctic Ice Sheet.  Their records indicate that the ice has been melting at a rate of 2.6% per decade since the late 1970’s and it peaked at least temporarily in 2007.  If the rate of melt stayed steady…. it would take 400 years to melt completely, not 38.

But the rate is not steady!

As of April 2012, the extent of the ice is about average.  If one took all the April data and averaged it, April 2012’s value is the one that would come up.  Yes AVERAGE.  Ice has been building in the Arctic since 2007.  2012 has been a very cold period, particularly from February through mid April.

Not to worry, I’m not predicting the next Ice Age advance, or the end of global warming…I’m just saying that the 2050 display was there to generate cash for the WWF….and it really was a wild ass guess.

Polar Bears might be OK — Time will Tell

Last week Forbes, Fox News and the Globe and Mail  (a Toronto based Canadian publication) all reported on a survey conducted  of Polar Bears in the Hudson Bay area of Canada.  I discussed the article in my most recent post.

The Polar bear population in the critical Western Hudson Bay area is probably near twice the number predicted by the experts.   This area supposedly has been impacted by human activity and global warming.  Scientists were wrong.  What happened?

Experts (you know the definition of an expert — someone more than 50 miles from home) were convinced the area population was in decline.  Global warming was taking its toll as the world has warmed faster than it has in the past according to these same experts, and the UN’s own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the source of this knowledge.

Warming faster today than in the past?   Come on guys.  It is predicted that it could warm faster….but it hasn’t happened yet.

The IPCC admitted in their  1990 Climate Assessment that sudden changes of up to 2 degree C in a relatively short period of time (less than a century) could be normal climate variation because there is evidence that a 2 degree C change happens with some regularity throughout  ice age cycles.  So far we have changed a bit more than 1 degree C in about 150 years.  Not exactly extraordinary.

Warming seen since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has not yet been unusual Ice Age warming.  It warmed very rapidly for a few years in the late 1990’s but there was also a significant volcanic eruption (Mt. Pinatubo in June of 1991) that might have impacted that warming.  Warming peaked in 1998 and any change since then has been at a much slower rate.  It appears the experts might have been relying on an IPCC prediction rather than empirical data.  Maybe…maybe not.

The IPCC offers a cornucopia of predictions for the year 21oo in their 2007 Synopses report (the current report). The IPCC does this by providing carbon dioxide scenarios predicting the future, and then they run lots of computer models.   Output of the models predict a wide array of results that vary from mild warming to severe warming.  The IPCC  summary reports offer multiple scenarios, and each scenario has within it a wide range of possible results.

There is no predicted result, just a range of options and the IPCC does not quantify the options in any significant way.  We are left to guess…to pick the one we like.

The most extreme scenario (the press and environmental groups like to use this one), the A1F1 predicts the climate will increase by at least 2.4 degrees C and it could increase by as much as 6.4 degrees C by the year 2100.  That’s quite a wide range only 88 years into the future.  The IPCC does provide a best estimate value of about 4.0 degree C, but they don’t ever define best estimate statistically.

This scenario requires man produced carbon dioxide to almost triple from 2000 levels by 2050.  That is not going to happen.  Right now we are about 25% higher than we were in 2000, we are going to have to accelerate our human output of carbon dioxide rapidly to get to the A1F1 scenario.  All other scenarios offer less warming…but similar variability in the results.

The IPCC states in their Synopses that no attempt as been made to attach probabilities to any of the scenarios.  Widely varying results, no probability analysis, science the IPCC way!

If Polar bears lived through the frequent warming and cooling  of the Pleistocene Era (the great ice age), and a recent study suggests the species has survived several complete ice age cycles, then they probably experienced greater temperature changes than we are seeing today.  Perhaps scientists are underestimating their ability to adapt.

Perhaps they are also overestimating the effects of climate change…pick your scenario….and pick your favored output….. pick a SWAG, I’ll pick mine and we’ll meet in a few hundred years and see who was the better guesser.

Polar Bear is 600,000 — Go Bears

I love it when the conventional wisdom of the day is successfully challenged.

Witness what is happening right now with Polar bears.  The conventional wisdom of last week was that Polar bears had evolved from Brown bears about 150,000 years ago and that their species is declining.  Both assumptions appear to be wrong.

Two recent articles about Polar bears are forcing changes in peoples attitudes.  As this new information filters around the scientific community, lots of entrenched positions will require alteration.  It will be entertaining to watch.

The first article appeared in the New York Times on April 19th.  The article was reprinted on page one of our local paper a day later.   Polar bears not descended from Brown bears.  Scientists have used a new way of testing the DNA of Polar bears and Brown bears. They now believe that Polar bears have always been a distinct and different species from Brown bears and this species has been around for 600,000 years.  Wow.  Here is a link to the article:


A second article, published on April 22nd by Forbes discusses a count of Polar bears in a critical Canadian habitat.   Local residents performed the count because they were convinced that they knew their own neighborhood better than the visiting scientists. That article titled Biodiversity Bombshell: Polar Bears And Penguins Prospering, But Pity Those Paramecium! is available at the following link:


Wow what a good week for Polar bear news.

Scientists and natives have been arguing about the health of the Polar bear population for years.  This year, the Government of Nunavat conducted an aerial count of the Western Hudson Bay Polar Bear area.  Scientists had predicted that this group had already been decimated by global warming and that the population was down to 610 individual bears.

The government counted more than a thousand, which of course means the numbers are at least 66% higher than the experts said.  The numbers are almost surely higher, but how much higher.  It is possible the scientists were off  by more than 100%.   An area where Polar bears are supposed to be in decline might be doing the opposite.  The population might be increasing.  The Polar bears appear to be surviving much better than scientists predicted.

The article went on to say the Penguin population in Antarctica is healthier than expected too.  It’s beginning to look like there’s a bit of wild ass guessing going on in the Arctic, and Antarctic too.

Polar bears are listed as threatened species.  But not because their numbers are dwindling although some scientists claimed they were until April 22nd.  They are threatened by predicted environmental change that might occur if and when the Arctic warms.

What happens if that predicted change is not as threatening as earlier thought?  Suppose that 1) the climate change is less likely to be severe or 2) the Polar bear is more adaptable than is widely believed.

If either is true, then the Polar bear does not belong on the threatened list.  The Polar bear not threatened….that could be a public relations and fund raising problem for environmental groups that have spent years lobbying to get it included over objections form locals in Alaska and Canada.

Stay tuned …this could get interesting.