10 fallacies about Arctic sea ice & polar bear survival refute misleading ‘facts’

10 fallacies about Arctic sea ice & polar bear survival refute misleading ‘facts’

Reposted from Dr. Susan Crockford’s Polar Bear Science

Posted on July 8, 2020 |

This updated blog post of mine from last year is as pertinent now as it was then: it’s a fully-referenced rebuttal to the misleading ‘facts’ so often presented this time of year to support the notion that polar bears are being harmed due to lack of summer sea ice. Polar Bears International developed ‘Arctic Sea Ice Day’ (15 July) to promote their skewed interpretation of polar bear science at the height of the Arctic melt season. This year I’ve add a ‘Polar Bears and the Arctic Food Chain‘ graphic, which readers are free to download and share. For further information, see “The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened“.

Polar bear top of Arctic food chain 7 July 2020

Summer sea ice loss is finally ramping up: first year is disappearing, as it has done every year since ice came to the Arctic millions of years ago. But critical misconceptions, fallacies, and disinformation abound regarding Arctic sea ice and polar bear survival. Ahead of Arctic Sea Ice Day (15 July), here are 10 fallacies that teachers and parents especially need to know about.

As always, please contact me if you would like to examine any of the references included in this post. These references are what make my efforts different from the activist organization Polar Bears International. PBI virtually never provide references within the content it provides, including material it presents as ‘educational’. Links to previous posts of mine that provide expanded explanations, images, and additional references are also provided.

Sea ice background: extent over the last year

Summer sea ice minimum 2019 (from NSIDC):

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 Sept 18

Winter sea ice maximum 2020:

masie_all_zoom_4km 2020 March 5 Day 65

Sea ice at 7 July 2019: early summer extent

masie_all_zoom_4km 2019 July 7

Despite the fact that 2019 had the 2nd lowest extent for the month of June since 1979, by the end of June 2020 (as was also the case in 2019), there was still ice adjacent to all major polar bear denning areas across the Arctic (see chart below).

masie_all_zoom_4km 2020 June 30

In many regions – including Western Hudson BayWrangel Island, and Franz Josef Land – pregnant females that will give birth on land in December come ashore in summer and stay until their newborn cubs are old enough to return with them to the ice the following spring. See Andersen et al. 2012; Ferguson et al. 2000; Garner et al. 1994; Jonkel et al. 1978; Harington 1968; Kochnev 2018; Kolenosky and Prevett 1983; Larsen 1985; Olson et al. 2017; Richardson et al. 2005; Stirling and Andriashek 1992.

Ten fallacies and disinformation about sea ice

1. ‘Sea ice is to the Arctic as soil is to a forest‘. False: this all-or-nothing analogy is a specious comparison. In fact, Arctic sea ice is like a big wetland pond that dries up a bit every summer, where the amount of habitat available to sustain aquatic plants, amphibians and insects is reduced but does not disappear completely. Wetland species are adapted to this habitat: they are able to survive the reduced water availability in the dry season because it happens every year. Similarly, sea ice will always reform in the winter and stay until spring. During the two million or so years that ice has formed in the Arctic, there has always been ice in the winter and spring (even in warmer Interglacials than this one). Moreover, I am not aware of a single modern climate model that predicts winter ice will fail to develop over the next 80 years or so. See Amstrup et al. 2007; Durner et al. 2009; Gibbard et al. 2007; Polak et al. 2010; Stroeve et al. 2007.


2. Polar bears need summer sea ice to survive.  False: polar bears that have fed adequately on young seals in the early spring can live off their fat for five months or more until the fall, whether they spend the summer on land or the Arctic pack ice. Polar bears seldom catch seals in the summer because only predator-savvy adult seals are available and holes in the pack ice allow the seals many opportunities to escape (see the BBC video below). Polar bears and Arctic seals truly require sea ice from late fall through early spring only. See Crockford 2017, 2019; Hammill and Smith 1991:132; Obbard et al. 2016; Pilfold et al. 2016; Stirling 1974; Stirling and Øritsland 1995; Whiteman et al. 2015.

3. Ice algae is the basis for all Arctic life. Only partially true because plankton also thrives in open water during the Arctic summer, which ultimately provides food for the fish species that ringed and bearded seals eat during the summer, which fattens the seals up before the long Arctic winter (as the graphic below shows).

Polar bear top of Arctic food chain 7 July 2020

Recent research has shown that less ice in summer has improved ringed and bearded seal health and survival over conditions that existed in the 1980s (when there was a shorter ice-free season and fewer fish to eat): as a consequence, abundant seal populations have been a boon for the polar bears that depend on them for food in early spring. For example, despite living with the most profound decline of summer sea ice in the Arctic polar bears in the Barents Sea around Svalbard are thriving, as are Chukchi Sea polar bears – both contrary to predictions made in 2007 that resulted in polar bears being declared ‘threatened’ with extinction under the Endangered Species Act. See Aars 2018; Aars et al. 2017; Amstrup et al. 2007; Arrigo and van Dijken 2015; Crawford and Quakenbush 2013; Crawford et al. 2015; Crockford 2017, 2019; Frey et al. 2018; Kovacs et al. 2016; Lippold et al. 2019; Lowry 2016; Regehr et al. 2018; Rode and Regehr 2010; Rode et al. 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018.

4. Open water in early spring as well as summer ice melt since 1979 are unnatural and detrimental to polar bear survival. False: melting ice is a normal part of the seasonal changes in the Arctic. In the winter and spring, a number of areas of open water appear because wind and currents rearrange the pack ice – this is not melt, but rather normal polynya formation and expansion. Polynyas and widening shore leads provide a beneficial mix of ice resting platform and nutrient-laden open water that attracts Arctic seals and provides excellent hunting opportunities for polar bears. The map below shows Canadian polynyas and shore leads known in the 1970s: similar patches of open water routinely develop in spring off eastern Greenland and along the Russian coast of the Arctic Ocean. See Dunbar 1981; Grenfell and Maykut 1977; Hare and Montgomery 1949; Smith and Rigby 1981; Stirling and Cleator 1981; Stirling et al. 1981, 1993.Smith and Rigby 1981_Canada polynyas_smSmith and Rigby 1981_Canada polynyas_sm

Recurring polynyas and shore leads in Canada known in the 1970s. From Smith and Rigby 1981

5. Climate models do a good job of predicting future polar bear habitat. False: My recent book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, explains that the almost 50% decline in summer sea ice that was not expected until 2050 actually arrived in 2007, where it has been ever since (yet polar bears are thriving). That is an extraordinarily bad track record of sea ice prediction. Also, contrary to predictions made by climate modelers, first year ice has already replaced much of the multi-year ice in the southern and eastern portion of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, to the benefit of polar bears. See also ACIA 2005; Crockford 2017, 2019; Durner et al. 2009; Hamilton et al. 2014; Heide-Jorgensen et al. 2012; Perovich et al. 2018; Stern and Laidre 2016; Stroeve et al. 2007; SWG 2016; Wang and Overland 2012.Arctic_September_Sea_Ice_Extent_NSIDC_Stroeve_Wikimedia_to Sept 2007Arctic_September_Sea_Ice_Extent_NSIDC_Stroeve_Wikimedia_to Sept 2007

Simplified predictions vs. observations up to 2007 provided by Stroeve et al. 2007 (courtesy Wikimedia). Sea ice hit an even lower extent in 2012 and all years since then have been below predicted levels.

6. Sea ice is getting thinner and that’s a problem for polar bears.  False: First year ice (less than about 2 metres thick) is the best habit for polar bears because it is also the best habitat for Arctic seals. Very thick multi-year ice that has been replaced by first year ice that melts completely every summer creates more good habitat for seals and bears in the spring, when they need it the most. This has happened especially in the southern and eastern portions of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (see ice chart below from Sept 2016). Because of such changes in ice thickness, the population of polar bears in Kane Basin (off NW Greenland) has more than doubled since the late 1990s and numbers of bears in M’Clintock Channel (in the SE Archipelago) have reportedly also increased. See Atwood et al. 2016; Durner et al. 2009; Lang et al. 2017; Stirling et al. 1993; SWG 2016.

Sea ice extent 2016 Sept 10_NSIDC_minimum declared

7. Polar bears in Western and Southern Hudson Bay are most at risk of extinction due to global warming. False: Ice decline in Hudson Bay has been among the lowest across the Arctic. Sea ice decline in Hudson Bay (see graphs below) has been less than one day per year since 1979 compared to more than 4 days per year in the Barents Sea. Hudson Bay ice decline also uniquely happened as a sudden step-change in 1998: there has not been a slow and steady decline. Since 1998, the ice-free season in Western Hudson Bay has been about 3 weeks longer overall than it was in the 1980s but has not become any longer over the last 22 years despite declines in total Arctic sea ice extent or increased carbon dioxide emissions. Ice coverage over Hudson Bay at the end of June in 2020 was as high as last year, providing good sea ice conditions for WH and SH polar bears for the last five years at least. See Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Regehr et al. 2016.Regehr et al 2016 SH WH BS togetherRegehr et al 2016 SH WH BS together

Loss of summer sea ice per year, 1979-2014. From Regehr et al. 2016.

8. Breakup of sea ice in Western Hudson Bay now occurs three weeks earlier than it did in the 1980s. False: Breakup now occurs about 2 weeks earlier in summer than it did in the 1980s. The total length of the ice-free season is now about 3 weeks longer (with lots of year-to-year variation). WH polar bears tagged last year were still on the ice at the end of June 2020. See Castro de la Guardia et al. 2017; Cherry et al. 2013; Lunn et al. 2016; and video below, showing the first bear spotted off the ice at Cape Churchill, Western Hudson Bay, on 5 July 2019 – fat and healthy after eating well during the spring:

9. Winter sea ice has been declining since 1979, putting polar bear survival at risk. Only partially true: while sea ice in winter (i.e. March) has been declining gradually since 1979 (see graph below from NOAA), there is no evidence to suggest this has negatively impacted polar bear health or survival, as the decline has been quite minimal. The sea ice chart at the beginning of this post shows that in 2020 there was plenty of ice remaining in March to meet the needs of polar bears and their primary prey (ringed and bearded seals), despite 2019 being the 11th lowest since 1979 (and the highest since 2013).

arc19_seaice_perovich_fig2 March vs Sept 1979-2019

10. Experts say that with 19 different polar bear subpopulations across the Arctic, there are “19 sea ice scenarios playing out“ (see also here), implying this is what they predicted all along. False: In order to predict the future survival of polar bears, biologists at the US Geological Survey in 2007 grouped polar bear subpopulations with similar sea ice types (which they called ‘polar bear ecoregions,’ see map below). Their predictions of polar bear survival were based on assumptions of how the ice in these four sea ice regions would change over time (with areas in green and purple being similarly extremely vulnerable to effects of climate change). However, it turns out that there is much more variation within and between regions than they expected and more differences in responses to summer sea ice loss than predicted: contrary to predictions, the Barents Sea has had a far greater decline in summer ice extent than any other region, and both Western and Southern Hudson Bay have had relatively little (see #7). See Amstrup et al. 2007; Atwood et al. 2016; Crockford 2017, 2019, 2020; Durner et al. 2009; Lippold et al. 2019; Regehr et al. 2016. My latest book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened, explains why this prediction based on sea ice ecoregions failed so miserably.



Aars, J. 2018. Population changes in polar bears: protected, but quickly losing habitat. Fram Forum Newsletter 2018. Fram Centre, Tromso. Download pdf here (32 mb).

Aars, J., Marques,T.A, Lone, K., Anderson, M., Wiig, Ø., Fløystad, I.M.B., Hagen, S.B. and Buckland, S.T. 2017. The number and distribution of polar bears in the western Barents Sea. Polar Research 36:1. 1374125. doi:10.1080/17518369.2017.1374125

ACIA 2005. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment: Scientific Report. Cambridge University Press. See their graphics package of sea ice projections here.

AMAP 2017. [ACIA 2005 update]. Snow, Water, Ice, and Permafrost in the Arctic Summary for Policy Makers (Second Impact Assessment). Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, Oslo. pdf here.

Amstrup, S.C. 2003. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus). In Wild Mammals of North America, G.A. Feldhamer, B.C. Thompson and J.A. Chapman (eds), pg. 587-610. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Amstrup, S.C., Marcot, B.G. & Douglas, D.C. 2007. Forecasting the rangewide status of polar bears at selected times in the 21st century. US Geological Survey. Reston, VA. Pdf here

Andersen, M., Derocher, A.E., Wiig, Ø. and Aars, J. 2012. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) maternity den distribution in Svalbard, Norway. Polar Biology 35:499-508.

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Atwood, T.C., Marcot, B.G., Douglas, D.C., Amstrup, S.C., Rode, K.D., Durner, G.M. et al. 2016. Forecasting the relative influence of environmental and anthropogenic stressors on polar bears. Ecosphere 7(6): e01370.

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Crockford, S.J. 2017. Testing the hypothesis that routine sea ice coverage of 3-5 mkm2 results in a greater than 30% decline in population size of polar bears (Ursus maritimus). PeerJ Preprints 19 January 2017. Doi: 10.7287/peerj.preprints.2737v1 Open access. https://peerj.com/preprints/2737/

Crockford, S.J. 2019The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. Global Warming Policy Foundation, London. Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Crockford, S.J. 2020. State of the Polar Bear Report 2019. Global Warming Policy Foundation Report 39, London. pdf here.

Derocher, A.E., Wiig, Ø., and Andersen, M. 2002. Diet composition of polar bears in Svalbard and the western Barents Sea. Polar Biology 25 (6): 448-452. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00300-002-0364-0

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Frey, K.E., Comiso, J.C., Cooper, L.W., Grebmeier, J.M., and Stock, L.V. 2018. Arctic Ocean primary productivity: the response of marine algae to climate warming and sea ice decline. NOAA Arctic Report Card: Update for 2018.  https://arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card/Report-Card-2018/ArtMID/7878/ArticleID/778/Arctic-Ocean-Primary-Productivity-The-Response-of-Marine-Algae-to-Climate-Warming-and-Sea-Ice-Decline

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Hammill, M.O. and Smith T.G. 1991. The role of predation in the ecology of the ringed seal in Barrow Strait, Northwest Territories, Canada. Marine Mammal Science 7:123–135.

Hare, F.K. and Montgomery, M.R. 1949. Ice, Open Water, and Winter Climate in the Eastern Arctic of North America: Part II. Arctic 2(3):149-164. http://arctic.journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/3985 Pdf here.

[see also: Hare, F.K. and Montgomery, M.R. 1949. Ice, Open Water, and Winter Climate in the Eastern Arctic of North America: Part I. Arctic 2(2):79-89. http://arctic.journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/3976 ]

Harington, C. R. 1968. Denning habits of the polar bear (Ursus maritimus Phipps). Canadian Wildlife Service Report Series 5.

Heide-Jorgensen, M.P., Laidre, K.L., Quakenbush, L.T. and Citta, J.J. 2012. The Northwest Passage opens for bowhead whales. Biology Letters 8(2):270-273. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2011.0731

Jonkel, C., Land, E. and Redhead, R. 1978. The productivity of polar bears () in the southeastern Baffin Island area, Northwest Territories. Canadian Wildlife Service Progress Notes 91.

Kochnev, A.A. 2018. Distribution and abundance of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) dens in Chukotka (based on inquiries of representatives of native peoples). Biology Bulletin 45 (8):839-846.

Kolenosky, G.B. and Prevett, J.P. 1983. Productivity and maternity denning of polar bears in Ontario. Bears: Their Biology and Management 5:238-245.

Kovacs, K.M. 2016. Erignathus barbatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T8010A45225428. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/8010/0

Lang, A., Yang, S. and Kaas, E. 2017. Sea ice thickness and recent Arctic warming Geophysical Research Letters. DOI: 10.1002/2016GL071274

Larsen, T. 1985. Polar bear denning and cub production in Svalbard, Norway. Journal of Wildlife Management 49:320-326.

Lippold, A., Bourgeon, S., Aars, J., Andersen, M., Polder, A., Lyche, J.L., Bytingsvik, J., Jenssen, B.M., Derocher, A.E., Welker, J.M. and Routti, H. 2019. Temporal trends of persistent organic pollutants in Barents Sea polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to changes in feeding habits and body condition. Environmental Science and Technology 53(2):984-995.

Lowry, L. 2016. Pusa hispida. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41672A45231341. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41672/0

Lunn, N.J., Servanty, S., Regehr, E.V., Converse, S.J., Richardson, E. and Stirling, I. 2016. Demography of an apex predator at the edge of its range – impacts of changing sea ice on polar bears in Hudson Bay. Ecological Applications 26(5):1302-1320. DOI: 10.1890/15-1256

Morrison, A. and Kay, J. 2014. “Short-term Sea Ice Gains Don’t Eliminate Long-term Threats.” Polar Bears International“Scientists & Explorers Blog” posted 22 September 2014. https://web.archive.org/web/20150509003221/http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/news-room/scientists-and-explorers-blog/short-term-sea-ice-gains-dont-eliminate-long-term-threats

Obbard, M.E., Cattet, M.R.I., Howe, E.J., Middel, K.R., Newton, E.J., Kolenosky, G.B., Abraham, K.F. and Greenwood, C.J. 2016. Trends in body condition in polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation in relation to changes in sea ice. Arctic Science 2:15-32. 10.1139/AS-2015-0027 http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/AS-2015-0027#.VvFtlXpUq50

Overland, J.E. and Wang, M. 2013. When will the summer Arctic be nearly sea ice free? Geophysical Research Letters 40: 2097-2101.

Perovich, D., Meier, W., Tschudi, M.,Farrell, S., Hendricks, S., Gerland, S., Haas, C., Krumpen, T., Polashenski, C., Ricker, R. and Webster, M. 2018. Sea ice. Arctic Report Card 2018, NOAAhttps://www.arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card/Report-Card-2018

Pilfold, N. W., Derocher, A. E., Stirling, I. and Richardson, E. 2015 in press. Multi-temporal factors influence predation for polar bears in a changing climate. Oikos. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/oik.02000/abstract

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Regehr, E.V., Laidre, K.L, Akçakaya, H.R., Amstrup, S.C., Atwood, T.C., Lunn, N.J., Obbard, M., Stern, H., Thiemann, G.W., & Wiig, Ø. 2016. Conservation status of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in relation to projected sea-ice declines. Biology Letters 12: 20160556. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/12/12/20160556 Supplementary data here.

Regehr, E.V., Hostetter, N.J., Wilson, R.R., Rode, K.D., St. Martin, M., Converse, S.J. 2018. Integrated population modeling provides the first empirical estimates of vital rates and abundance for polar bears in the Chukchi Sea. Scientific Reports 8 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-34824-7 https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-34824-7

Richardson, E., Stirling, I. and Hik, D.S. 2005. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) maternity denning habitat in western Hudson Bay: a bottoms-up approach to resource selection functions. Canadian Journal of Zoology 83: 860-870.

Rode, K. and Regehr, E.V. 2010. Polar bear research in the Chukchi and Bering Seas: A synopsis of 2010 field work. Unpublished report to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, Anchorage. pdf here.

Rode, K.D., Douglas, D., Durner, G., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W., and Budge, S. 2013. Variation in the response of an Arctic top predator experiencing habitat loss: feeding and reproductive ecology of two polar bear populations. Oral presentation by Karyn Rode, 28th Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium, March 26-29. Anchorage, AK.

Rode, K.D., Regehr, E.V., Douglas, D., Durner, G., Derocher, A.E., Thiemann, G.W., and Budge, S. 2014. Variation in the response of an Arctic top predator experiencing habitat loss: feeding and reproductive ecology of two polar bear populations. Global Change Biology 20(1):76-88. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12339/abstract

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Rode, K.D., Wilson, R.R., Regehr, E.V., St. Martin, M., Douglas, D.C. & Olson, J. 2015. Increased land use by Chukchi Sea polar bears in relation to changing sea ice conditions. PLoS One 10 e0142213.

Smith, M. and Rigby, B. 1981. Distribution of polynyas in the Canadian Arctic. In: Polynyas in the Canadian Arctic, Stirling, I. and Cleator, H. (eds), pg. 7-28. Canadian Wildlife Service, Occasional Paper No. 45. Ottawa.

Stern, H.L. and Laidre, K.L. 2016. Sea-ice indicators of polar bear habitat. Cryosphere 10: 2027-2041.

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Stirling, I. 2002. Polar bears and seals in the eastern Beaufort Sea and Amundsen Gulf: a synthesis of population trends and ecological relationships over three decades. Arctic 55 (Suppl. 1):59-76. http://arctic.synergiesprairies.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/issue/view/42

Stirling, I. and Andriashek, D. 1992. Terrestrial maternity denning of polar bears in the eastern Beaufort Sea area. Arctic 45:363-366.

Stirling, I., Andriashek, D., and Calvert, W. 1993. Habitat preferences of polar bears in the western Canadian Arctic in late winter and spring. Polar Record 29:13-24. http://tinyurl.com/qxt33wj

Stirling, I., Calvert, W., and Andriashek, D. 1984. Polar bear ecology and environmental considerations in the Canadian High Arctic. Pg. 201-222. In Olson, R., Geddes, F. and Hastings, R. (eds.). Northern Ecology and Resource Management. University of Alberta Press, Edmonton.

Stirling, I. and Cleator, H. (eds). 1981. Polynyas in the Canadian Arctic. Canadian Wildlife Service, Occasional Paper No. 45. Ottawa.

Stirling, I, Cleator, H. and Smith, T.G. 1981. Marine mammals. In: Polynyas in the Canadian Arctic, Stirling, I. and Cleator, H. (eds), pg. 45-58. Canadian Wildlife Service Occasional Paper No. 45. Ottawa. Pdf of pertinent excerpts from the Stirling and Cleator volume here.

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via Watts Up With That?


July 9, 2020 at 08:07AM

Author: uwe.roland.gross

Don`t worry there is no significant man- made global warming. The global warming scare is not driven by science but driven by politics. Al Gore and the UN are dead wrong on climate fears. The IPCC process is a perversion of science.