Polar bears listed as endangered, while global sea ice anomaly is above average

May 15, 2008

They finally did it.  Today the polar bear was listed as an endangered species.  The New York Times reports 

The Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit in 2005 to force a listing of the polar bear. The center, based in Arizona, has been explicit about its hopes to use this — and the earlier listing of two species of coral threatened by warming seas — as a legal cudgel to attack proposed coal-fired power plants or other new sources of carbon dioxide emissions.

The thrust of the argument that echoes around the internet and appears over and over again in the popular press is the following sequence: 1. Anthropogenic CO2 causes the planet to heat. 2. This causes more summer ice melt. 3. The longer duration of open water in the summer and fall hampers the bear’s seal hunting and breeding. 4. Bear population diminishes.

There was, in fact, a fairly rapid decrease in Arctic sea ice extent sea ice extent over the last few years.  But the losses were almost entirely recovered in an unprecedented ice build-up of Arctic sea ice in the last months of  2007 and the first months of 2008

The alarmists base their argument on the studies of the bear’s habitat by the IUCN World Conservation Union.   Much has been made of the IUCN’s list of the “observed or predicted trend” for the nineteen sub-populations of polar bears. Most people are not aware that only five of these nineteen populations are listed as “declining.”  These sub-populations are the Southern Beaufort Sea population, Norwegian Bay population, Western Hudson population, Baffin Bay population, and Kane Basin population.

What is the condition of the sea ice for these five populations today? See for yourself in the following graphs of sea ice area.*

Figure 1.  The Beaufort Sea, home of the Southern Beaufort Sea sub-population of polar bears, has had an almost exactly average seasonally adjusted sea ice extent for the last six months.

Figure 2.  The Canadian Archipelago is the home of the Norwegian Bay sub-population of polar bears.  This region has had an average seasonally adjusted ice extent for the last six months.

Figure 3.  The Hudson Bay is the home of the Western Hudson population.  The Hudson Bay seasonally adjusted sea ice extent has hovered around average for the last six months.  Although it has been below average for brief periods in the last month, at the time this post is being written it is slightly above average.

Figure 4.  The Baffin Bay / Newfoundland region contains the Baffin Bay and Kane subpopulations.  For most of the last six months the sea ice extent has been greater than the seasonally adjusted average.

 As the NYT article mentioned above made perfectly clear, this has been a battle over the alarmist’s fear of global warming, not about polar bears per se.  Global warming, they worry, is going to yield an ice free Arctic, and the land bound ice in the Antarctic is on the verge of melting and flooding the coastal regions of the planet.  So, how does the overall global sea ice extent look, as of today?  While it has wiggled up an down about the average since satellites have been measuring it, and it stayed below average for several years, it is currently above average, as shown in figure 5, below.

Figure 5. Global sea ice area and anomaly.  Click on the image to enlarge the most recent anomaly data.  For the last several months the anomaly has been positive.  That is, the seasonally adjusted anomaly has been greater than the 1979 to 2000 average. 

My guess is that most of the alarmists are hoping and praying for a significant meltdown in the Arctic this summer.  Without such a meltdown it won’t be polar bears that are endangered, but their credibility.

*  Data for all figures from the University of Illinois Polar Research Group.  For figures 1 through 4 of the sea ice areas and averages were digitized from the U of I graphs of sea ice areas and anomalies using 48 increments per year.  Then the anomalies were subtracted from the sea ice area to give the 1979 to 2000 average.  Figure 5 is from the U of I web page, with additional annotation by ClimateSanity.


  1. Thanks for the graphs. I’m more cynical than you. I don’t think the alarmists care a bit about polar bears. They are using them because they are beautiful and charismatic, and the cubs are really cute. The environmental NGOs have learned that people are suckers for baby animals. Their interest is in stopping any possible drilling for oil in the Arctic. Big Oil is the enemy. They envision a cleaner, more pristine world, powered by gentle wind and the sun. A world with few people and no SUVs.

  2. I also think that it is funny how the skeptics are pilloried for taking small amounts of money from big business to support their research (even when they don’t!), but we accept “research” from radical environmental groups as valid on its face. I’m not sure how that works.

  3. Look at this earlier post for an abundanced of evidence that the arctic was warmer in the early and/or mid-Holocene than it is today.


  4. That is a useful article thank you for showing so much detail. I know it is warm in Folsom CA today.

  5. “The polar bears are thus being put on the list NOT because they are in decline but because the ice is melting..”

    The bears are simply a tool for environmentalists to screw capitalism.To screw “big oil” and screw anyone who is for a Represenative Republic America is supposed to be.

    In a few years when the probable cooling trend gets underway.The soaring energy costs will come back and bite us in the ass.Courtesy of stupid voters who vote in represenatives and senatorial morons who follow the environmentalist endgame at shutting down new LARGE MASS energy developments.Such a NUCLEAR , and COAL.Just recently we learn that just about everything is now off limits.

    Meaning that while large American oil reserves (the largest in the world) goes untapped.WE buy increasingly more and more oil from a hostile middle east and from socialist Canada and Mexico.Who are now having problems meeting the demand because of environmentalism activities in those countries.

    Courtesy of brain dead people who supports insane anti-capitalism beliefs with donations to those multi-billion dollar environmentalist corporations.

    Lets face it.It is the PEOPLE who are letting this happen to them.They in their deep ignorance follow the likes of Al Gore and James Hansen.Who are profiting handsomely from scaring people of a non problem.

    CO2 is simply a trace greenhouse gas.That has demonstrably little waming power beyond the initial waming effect it already has.A bogeyman it never was.

    Now we have a growing whine about high energy costs.Caused by shutting down developming new energy sources.That we have in abundance.

    Screw you voters for letting this happen. You are too stupid to see what is happening to YOU!

  6. Tom – You commented on my blog post “Is Knut Kpoot”, http://davidoarr.wordpress.com. I posted some information in response that I’d like to hear your thoughts on. Your the big dog here, so if you would like me to post my questions to your blog, I’m ok with that. Otherwise, I look forward to hearing your response. Thanks.

  7. Its really amazing that anyone would buy into the stuff that is going on in the area of global warming. Considering how complex the issue is we could be collecting data and running models for the next 100 years and still not know what is going on in a very complex system. I have no problem with conservation generally but I really deplore the means justifying the ends approach the “Goreits ” are taking

  8. Soon we will also be buying oil from Cuba who will be taking it from the Gulf of Mexico, in areas the envirnmentalist say would create bad spills and polution. Their technology is more primative than ours so the spills will be a much greater threat and we will probably have to pay them over $250 a barrel. This will give them more money to turn countries in South America against us.

  9. See comment from Davidoarr, above:


    You asked me to look at Japan Aerospace page concerning perennial ice versus sea ice extent. Perennial sea ice is, of course, any sea ice that survives the melt season to cycle through at least one more year. Each year, the Northern Hemisphere cycles through a maximum of about 14 million square kilometers down to about a minimim of 5 million square kilometers, leaving only about 1/3 of the ice each year as perennial ice. As seen in figure 1 of one of my previous blog enteries, the minimum Northern Hemisphere sea ice extent has been steadily decreasing during the satellite observing era (since 1979). That is, the perennial ice has been decreasing. However, the major loss of perenial sea ice has been primarily along the Siberian coast (the East Siberian Sea, Laptev Sea, Kara Sea) This can be seen in the lower left corner of each of the yearly maps in Figure 2 of the Japan Aerospace web page that Davidoarr suggested.

    However, as the graphs in my more recent post illustrate, subsequent to large drops in sea ice over the last few years, the areas that are homes to the only five subpopulations of polar bears that are listed as “declining” have made almost complete recoveries in the last few months. The other regions that saw large losses of perennial ice over the last few years have also, for the most part, made large recoveries of sea ice extent. If a large portion of this sea ice survives the summer melt season (ending around October), then it will become part of the newly important perennial sea ice. Present conditions in the Arctic seem to indicate that is what will happen. The nice thing about it is that we only have to wait a few months to see who is right or wrong on this question.

    An increase in the perennial sea ice could actually be worse news for the Norwegian Bay subpopulation of polar bears. The reason this subpopulation was listed as “declining” is, according to the IUCN, “The preponderance of heavy multi-year ice through most of the central and western areas has resulted in low densities of ringed seals and, consequently, low densities of polar bears.”

    As I mentioned above, the yearly minimum sea ice extent in the Northern Hemisphere has been declining during the satellite observing era. Doesn’t this essentially make the point that anthropogenic global warming is having a great impact on the Arctic and consequently the polar bears? Not necessarily. I think, based on your comments, that we agree that the bears have survived warmer times. Your concern was that “the rapidity of the change” may be greater than what they had experienced in the past. We know that conditions have constantly varied, but obviously we don’t have nice daily satellite data from the previous interglacial (the Eemian), back to glacial conditions, and into the present interglacial (the Holocene). Absence of evidence in not evidence of absence.

    Here are a couple of quick examples of recent (Holocene) non-athropogenic rapid climate changes in the northern latitudes. It seems that conditions changed very rapidly (decadal time scale) for the the European inhabitants of Greenland, wiping them out in the 14 century. The Younger-Dryas event was a period after the end of the the last ice age (about 13,000 years ago) when temperatures rapidly dropped back down to ice age levels. The Younger-Dryas ended when “temperatures rapidly rose around 10° C in a very short time… most of the increase occurred in less than a decade.” Both of these events would have been much more profound the variations going on in the Arctic today.

    Best Regards,

  10. Nice website!!

  11. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation🙂 Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Flyer.

    • same here

  12. This stupid i dis agree there is no half!

  13. There is no half year

  14. What? No recent postings?

  15. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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