Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Polar-Bear-Gate Saga: How a picture is worth a thousand lies - Paul Nicklen and Michael Mann vs Susan Crockford


What oddly seems to surprise so many people, reality can quickly disagree with the hypotheses and speculative models of scientists.  The polar bear is a rich case in point. In 2008, the polar bear was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act as a result of the Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) petition. Due to hypotheses regards future effects of increasing CO2 on sea ice and polar bear health, CBD argued polar bears were endangered. However then Interior Secretary Kempthorne made it clear that “the ESA will not be used as a tool for trying to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for creating climate change.”  But as seen in other memos and  petitions, such as for the bearded seals, the CBD ultimately wants to use the ESA as a tool to regulate CO2.

So the CBD stepped up their demands and petitioned the Obama administration to list the bears as endangered. Climate scientists Ken Caldeira and Michael Mann co-authored a 2010 letter to Interior Secretary Salazar supporting CBD efforts. They warned “sea ice has been projected to disappear in the 2030s or before” and lost sea ice was both a future and “current threat to this important habitat of the polar bear.” The Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) led by researchers like Andrew Derocher, Steve Amstrup and Ian Stirling warned the world that “two thirds of the world’s bears will be lost by mid-century due to climate change”.  The PBSG published a status table for all the polar bear sub-populations showing in the best studied populations, 8 were declining.

However, since 2010 those predictions have been unravelling. All the evidence now reveals polar bears are thriving and increasing, and the PBSG’s recent status tables show just that. Research by  Chambellant and Stirling determined it was heavy springtime ice that was most detrimental to bears and their main prey, the ringed seal. The loss of Arctic summer sea ice was happening faster than CO2 driven models had predicted, suggesting flawed models. Research revealed that in response to the natural Arctic Oscillation, thick sea ice had been blown into the warmer Atlantic due to a directional shift in freezing winds. Further loss of Arctic sea ice has recently been shown to be caused by cycles of intruding waters from the Pacific and the Atlantic resulting in heat in that gets stored in the subsurface of the Arctic Ocean, dynamics that have not been accurately incorporated into global climate models.  Accordingly, the loss of sea ice has not accelerated. Instead the loss has slowed considerably.

Skeptics argued such evidence challenges prevailing hypotheses about the polar bears’ demise, and question the contention that greenhouse gases are the primary cause of sea ice fluctuations. Driven by the hubris of scientists like Michael Mann whose careers are totally invested in the “dire predictions” of rising CO2, the normal scientific process of challenging a hypothesis was framed as an “attack on science”.

Again in 2010, in the paper Climate Change and the Integrity of Science Peter Gleick wrote, “We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. Accompanying his paper (below) was a photo-shopped picture of a polar bear stranded on a shrinking piece of ice. A deception that skeptics quickly pointed out.

Photoshopped picture used in 2010 Gleick paper Climate Change and the Integrity of Science 

So the following correction was placed in the paper’s online version.
“Due to an editorial error, the original image associated with this Letter was not a photograph, but a collage. The image was selected by the editors [of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science], and it was a mistake to have used it. The original image has been replaced in the online HTML and PDF versions of the article with an unaltered photograph from National Geographic.”
That replacement picture (below) was from National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklin, who would become infamous for specializing in dead and skinny polar bear photos. If Gleick or his editors were pulling photos from an archive (National Geographic?) of photographs, then the question arises if the fake collage was also the work of the same photographer. And if so, for what purpose were they creating such a dishonest photo? The timing of the article and fake photo also raised suspicions from skeptics as it coincided with the Center for Biological Diversity’s campaign to up-list the polar bear from threatened to endangered,

NIcklen's photo used by Gleick

Despite having “carelessly” used a fake photo, Gleick was anointed the Chairman of the new task force on “scientific ethics and integrity” for the American Geophysical Union in 2011. Leading by example, in 2012 Gleick was outed in a flagrant attempt to anonymously smear the Heartland Institute’s climate skepticism by disseminating documents dishonestly obtained, including a damning but forged memo. Quickly identified by internet skeptics, Gleick finally confessed. Although the forged document was only being disseminated by Gleick, he denied any hand in forgery, and there was not enough evidence to convict him of forgery. In a KQED interview, Michael Mann, likely motivated by self-protection, downplayed Gleick’s underhanded actions as “poor judgement”. Mann then argued the release of the climate-gate emails, emails that had exposed Mann’s own underhanded methods, was a more dastardly deed. To this day, it is still unknown if the release of climate gate emails were the work of a whistle-blower or a hacker.

However, consistent with Mann’s efforts to promote polar bears as an icon of catastrophic global warming, Mann expressed no concern about Gleick’s fake polar bear picture. Indeed Mann was actively trying to pull on heart strings by mewing in the CBD release,  “When I ventured up to Hudson Bay in mid-November and saw the undernourished polar bears with their cubs, sitting around at the shore of the Hudson Bay, waiting for the then month-overdue sea ice to arrive so they could begin hunting for food, it suddenly came home for me. For the first time in my life, I actually saw climate change unfolding before my eyes. It was a sobering moment, and one I’ll never forget.”  In contrast to such storytelling, the unpublished research data from Stirling and Lunn, determined polar bear’s Body Condition Index for Hudson Bay bears had been improving since 1998 (in Landscapes and Cycles, p. 217). Improving body condition was also consistent with the increasing number of Hudson Bay bears estimated in subsequent surveys.

Susan Crockford runs the website, that aggregates the most up-to-date, peer-reviewed science and media releases by polar bear researchers. For example, Crockford reported the latest survey showing a healthy rebounding Western Hudson Bay population, months before the Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) researchers publicized the increase. The PBSG had incorrectly predicted a dramatic decline in Hudson Bay bears, so their tardiness to expose their own shortcomings is understandable. Crockford also reported the lack of consensus among polar bear researchers. While Enviornment Canada agreeed with the latest survey that estimated a healthy 1030 Western Hudson Bay bears, PBSG alarmist Andrew Derocher was actively pushing a much lower estimate of 800 bears to the media and suggesting the bears were doomed. This too is understandable as Derocher was invested in his earlier predictions that “by the middle of this century, two-thirds of the polar bears will be gone from their current populations”

Nonetheless despite mutiple surveys suggesting polar bear abundance was and is increasing, others tried to deny the evidence and suggest bears were starving and still on the brink of extinction. In 2015, photos by Kerstin Langenberger and once again by Paul Nicklin were pumped on social media, suggesting bears were suffering from a climate catastrophe. Who were these photographers?

Greenpeace activist Kerstin Langenberger's skinny polar bear photo

The dying bear above was put on Facebook by Kerstin Langenberger whom internet articles referred to as just a German photographer.  But a little digging revealed she is a Greenpeace activist, which is consistent with her catastrophic narratives that accompanied her photo and contradicted our best science. She stated, “With the pack ice retreating further and further north every year, they tend to be stuck on land where there’s not much food,” and “many times I have seen horribly thin bears, and those were exclusively females – like this one here”  and  “Only once I have seen a bear getting a big fat ‘5,’ but several times I have seen dead bears and bears like this one: a mere ‘1’ on the scale, doomed to death.” [polar bears’ body condition is often rated from 1(dangerously thin) to 5 (fat)]. (Amstrup has written polar bears usually head inland when sick, so there are questions about the photo's authenticity)

However contradicting Langenberger’s narrative, Norwegian Polar Institute researcher Kit Kovacs stated there’s reason to question claims that the number of animals experiencing such hardships is increasing. Our monitoring work indicates that (on-average) bears in the Svalbard population have NOT declined in condition over the last two decades – based on male body masses and fat levels”. Similarly, in the South Beaufort Sea population, female body condition had improved despite reduced summer ice.

NIcklen's Dead Bear in Svalbard Photo 

Also in 2015, Nicklin posted his photo of a dead bear that went viral. Journalist Andrew Freedman promoted the picture in Mashable writing, “Global warming may have led to the death of this polar bear.” Presenting a thin veneer of objectivity, he quotes polar bear researcher Ian Stirling who suggested that Nicklen’s photo shows a bear that most likely, but not certainly, died as a result of starvation related to sea ice melt. But Stirling’s remarks must be taken with a grain of salt as there is absolutely no evidence to support why the bear died. Furthermore, Stirling has appeared slightly schizophrenic lately as has been detailed. For example despite his research showing cycles of heavy spring ice had been most detrimental to seals and bears, Stirling and Derocher’s review of polar bear “science” used the very same research to falsely imply that less summer ice was the problem.

In contrast to those 2015 photos, Crockford’s website was one of the few places where scientific reports of a healthy bear population could be found. Contradicting Langenberger and Nicklin’s story-telling of dead bears strewn across Svalbard due to climate change, Crockford posted links to actual researchers from the Norwegian Polar Institute who reported fat bears in Svalbard.

Researchers were reporting

“The polar bears on Svalbard is round and full, thanks to a good [ice year] and good hunting opportunities.” And “… Polar bears were fat, many looked like pigs”, says polar researcher at the Norwegian Polar Institute, Jon Aars to the High North News.   Furthermore the Svalbard bears are part of the Barent Sea population and in 2017 Crockford relayed the most recent survey data showing Barent Sea Bears have been increasing. But such facts don’t have the emotional appeal as Nicklin’s fanciful pictorial story telling.

PBSG 2010 Polar Bear Sub-populations Status 

The Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) had created a status table in 2009 to illustrate the trends of each polar bear population. Above is their 2010 version. The trends are boldly shown in red for declining and green for stable or increasing populations. Eight populations were believed to be declining of which 6 were considered very likely to decline further. Only 3 populations were considered stable and only 1 was increasing. These declining PBSG estimates also went viral, and websites such as the one run by psychologist John Cook, who is now part of the well-funded Center for Climate Change Communication, posted an article concluding, “Current analysis of subpopulations where data is sufficient clearly shows that those subpopulations are mainly in decline” and thus support the ESA listing of polar bears as threatened.  In contrast in Landscapes and Cycles I documented how bear populations since 2010 were definitely increasing based on latest research.That analyses has been confirmed while earlier PBSG hype of declining populations and speculation of coming extirpations have not survived the test of time.

Fortunately Susan Crockford’s Polar Bear Science blog has continuoulsy discussed population trends as reported by bear experts plus PBSG’s status updates. While the PBSG removes their old tables, Crockford’s website serves as an archive that allows the public to readily witness how the bears have been increasing. For example the 2014 table (below) revealed the good news that only 3 of the past 8 populations were still declining, one was still increasing, and the stable populatons had doubled to 6.

Oddly in 2017 the PBSG eliminated the trends from their population table. The most likely reason for this omission would be that none of the bear populations are currently declining. Every population would be green or data deficient. Despite rising CO2 and reduced summer sea ice, polar bears are doing quite well and that contradicted the their predictions.

Of the 3 previously declining populations listed in their 2014 status report, the Baffin Bay population has now increased from 1,546 in 2004 to 2,826 in the most recent survey. The Kane Basin bears, that suffer from heavy ice, were estimated at 167 in 1997 but rose to 357 in 2014. The South Beaufort Sea population estimation remained unchanged but this population has been heavily criticized for poor analyses of mark and recatpure data.

PBSG 2014 Polar Bear Sub-populations Status 

In the face of rapid increases in the Baffin Bay bear population, a social media splash of Nicklin’s starving bear on Baffin Island appears to be another orchestrated attempt to resuscitate the failing claim that climate change is killing bears. National Geographic who sponsored Nicklin reports by “telling the story of one polar bear, Nicklen hopes to convey a larger message about how a warming climate has deadly consequences.” The NY Times pushed the video with similar headlines: Video of Starving Polar Bear ‘Rips Your Heart Out of Your Chest’. The Washington Post hyped the bear as evidence of an environmental disaster with the headlines, ‘We stood there crying’: Emaciated polar bear seen in 'gut-wrenching' video and photos.  If you searched the internet for an objective scientific examination, oddly no matter how many variations of “starving polar bears” are queried Google’s first link brings up the WWF’s plea for money to save the bears, and perhaps a violation of net neutrality.

Snopes who advertises itself as a fact-checker of truth, rated Nicklin’s starving bear video as “TRUE”. But Snopes’ bias is revealed by its discussion on the photo’s relevance, which pushes catastrophic climate change speculation. Snopes quotes polar bear researcher Steve Amstrup, who’s has flipped flopped on several bear issues over his career and whose “expertise model” has been severely criticized by colleagues in released emails. Amstrup promotes the starving bear photo on his website, again with the obligatory thin veneer of objectivity stating, “we cannot say, from the footage captured here, that this bear’s malnutrition was caused by global warming and its associated sea ice loss”. He then launches his speculative catastrophic message, “The problem is that an ever-warmer future means polar bears will have less and less access to their seal prey, so the rate at which bears die from malnutrition/starvation will increase. So, regardless of the proximate cause of this bear’s condition, this heart-wrenching footage provides us with a warning about the future.” Yet not a word about the survey of Baffin Bay bears robustly increasing from 1,546 in 2004 to 2,826 today.

Nicklen's 2017 Starving Bear Photo from Baffin Island

Amstrup and Mann are facing an embarrassing professional dilemma. With all the polar bear populations increasing or stable, their predictions that two-thirds of the polar bears will be gone by the middle of this century appears destined for utter failure. They had to do something. Otherwise who would trust a doctor whose past diagnoses were absolutely wrong. So, Harvey, Stirling, Amstrup, Mann and a professor of psychobabble Stephan Lewandowsky, banded together as coauthors of the paper Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy that fortuitously gets publicized alongside NIcklin’s starving bear hype.

Their paper acknowledges observations that polar bears have yet to be harmed writing, “Although the effects of warming on some polar-bear subpopulations are not yet documented and other subpopulations are apparently still faring well.” But they then confuse speculation with proven facts by suggesting “the fundamental relationship between polar-bear welfare and sea-ice availability is well established.” Clearly the growing bear populations present an undeniable challenge to any belief in the “requirement” of summer ice.

Their paper argued, “a growing body of scientific research reports the wide array of negative effects of AGW on biodiversity” by citing Parmesan whose bogus claims about the negative effects of climate change on wildlife are well documented.  Harvey, Stirling, Amstrup and Mann confuse speculative hypotheses with “fundamental relationship”. Published observations have shown heavy springtime ice is more harmful for seals and bears. Observations by Arrigo determined that reduced ice, whether natural or anthropogenic,  has increased phytoplankton productivity and bolstered the Arctic food web, while fishery researchers find that less ice and warmer temperatures increase Arctic cod abundance that is required to sustain the seals that sustain the bears.

Because skeptic websites like Crockford’s, Anthony Watts’ WUWT, and many others are the best source for alternative explanations that challenge catastrophic hypotheses, they are denigrated by these supposed objective scientists. As mounting evidence continues to turn against their prior polar bear predictions Harvey, Stirling, Amstrup, Mann and Lewandowsky’s were running low on scientific ammunition. So now they chose to publish a paper, solely aimed at shooting the messengers. They offered no scientific facts about polar bears that contradicted anything Crockford had published. Their arguments were based solely on the fallacy of authority, authorities whose predictions are failing.  Their paper is nothing more than a smear campaign hoping to suppress the upwelling call for more debate. Such tactics, tactics that try to obscure any evidence that challenges a failing hypothesis, are the real attacks on the scientific process. That is why Mann has been labeled by some as a disgrace to the profession

And whether or not Nicklin’s latest wretched polar bear photo is part of an orchestrated attempt to resuscitate their failed predictions, the media hype reveals that such photos, taken out of context, are worth a thousand lies.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Listing the Bearded Seal as Threatened: A Disturbing Victory for Untestable Hypotheses and Flawed Models

Bearded Seal on typical small ice floe

I’m a longtime supporter of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). When properly abided by, it seeks to prevent extinctions and requires humanity to seek a win-win scenario where both humans and all the other species can thrive. Unfortunately, some organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity have weaponized the ESA in order to manipulate the debate on energy policy and climate change by petitioning the courts to designate perfectly robust species as endangered or threatened from future climate change. Such abuse has understandably caused a growing backlash that ultimately threatens the ESA’s original mission. The listing of the polar bear is a case in point. Despite Center for Biological Diversity assertions that “Arctic sea ice melt is a disaster for the polar bears”, research shows polar bear populations have continued to thrive and increase.

The Center for Biological Diversity also petitioned to list thriving populations of Bearded Seals as threatened or endangered by melting sea ice. In response to their petition, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) assembled a Bearded Seal Biological Review Team (BRT). The BRT’s report can be read here. Oddly, despite promoting a threatened designation, the BRT reports Bearded Seals have existed for over 1-2 million years, surviving far greater bouts of climate change as the earth bounced between several ice ages and warmer interglacials.

On average, every hundred thousand years for the past half million years, the earth has descended into an ice age. Ice accumulation on land lowered sea level by about 400 feet (120 meters). The Arctic’s presently bountiful shallow seas were left high and dry and passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean was completely blocked by the resultant Beringia land bridge. Any seals trapped in a frozen Arctic were likely extirpated. During the last ice age, seals also experienced far more rapid changes than they are experiencing now or that are predicted in the future. Despite the extreme cold of the last ice age, the BRT reported “more than 20 so‐called Dansgaard‐Oeschger oscillations have been documented … each with rapid warming to near inter‐glacial temperatures over just a few decades.” 

Melting ice during our recent interglacial, known as the Holocene, has been good for seals. Sea levels rose and flooded coastal areas to create what is now the seal’s prime shallow-water habitat. Our best scientific data has determined Arctic temperatures between 9,000 and 6,000 years ago were a few degrees warmer than today, eliminating remnant glaciers and minimizing Arctic sea ice. Sea levels peaked around 6000 years ago, allowing an increased flow of warm, nutrient-rich “Pacific Water” across the shallow Bering Strait into the western Arctic. Our best scientific evidence reveals periodic warm water inflows coincide with peak marine productivity.

Unaffected by a slight increase in CO2 concentrations, sea levels began to fall as glaciers began to expand over the past 5000 years, the Neoglacial. Glaciers reached their greatest extent during the Little Ice Age 150 years ago. During the Neoglacial, average Pacific Water inflows subsided, average sea ice has increased, and marine productivity decreased. During this cooling trend, there were several warm spikes, usually associated with life-enhancing inflows of both warm Pacific and Atlantic water. High inflows consistently correlate with reduced sea ice and greater marine productivity. If the hypothesized warming from greenhouse gases proves to be true and if it can prevent further descent into another ice age or another little Ice Age, it is more likely than not such a warming effect would benefit the entire Arctic food web that sustains “threatened” bearded seals.

The state of Alaska and the Alaskan Oil and Gas Association correctly challenged the “threatened” designation as an “arbitrary, capricious abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law”. A district court agreed concluding that the listing indeed violated the Administrative Procedure Act. In that decision, the court reported it was troubling that the Beringia population of bearded seals was listed as threatened simply based on threats predicted by climate models that would not manifest until the end of the 21st century. However, that ruling was quickly appealed and now reversed, as the courts upheld the “threatened” designation.

The judge wrote the court was required to “defer to the agency’s [NMFS] interpretation of complex scientific data so long as the agency provides a reasonable explanation for adopting its approach.” The court also ruled that the ESA requirement for proving an imminent threat in the “foreseeable future” only required a scenario that it was “more likely than not” seals could be endangered.

The court ruling maintained that “as long as the agency states a rational connection between the facts found and the decision made [for listing] it must be upheld.”  Unfortunately judges who decide the validity of a Center for Biological Diversity claim, rarely have any background in biology or climate science. Those judges must rely on what lawyers assert are “the best available scientific data”. But lawyers and advocacy scientists only present the “best available scientific data” that supports their arguments, and ignore equally valid scientific data that contradict their claims. Unfortunately all the known facts were not presented. So even though 2 million years of climate history illustrated bearded seals are highly resilient, the court was swayed by a limited selection of models and untestable predictions. So, as Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story.

Defining Sea Ice as Critical Habitat

Although the Biological Review Team acknowledged “there is ample evidence that bearded seals have
adapted successfully many times to both large and rapid ecological changes” they argued “history is not, on its own, an assurance that bearded seals can adapt to the changes projected for the foreseeable future.” To make the case bearded seals were threatened, the BRT argued sea ice is a critical habitat required for birthing, nursing, molting and for resting while over prime foraging habitat. Because global climate models predict critical sea ice habitat will disappear as CO2 concentrations rise, they argue the seals are ultimately endangered. However ample evidence suggests sea ice is not a survival requirement.

When Bearded Seals do haul out onto sea ice, they prefer tiny floes of thin first-year ice. Climate change, whether natural or anthropogenic, will not eliminate that first-year ice. As the BRT reported, “sea ice will always persist from late fall through mid‐summer due to cold and dark winter conditions.”  Much of the Bearded Seal’s habitat encompasses seasonal ice zones where first-year sea ice is renewed every winter but melts completely every summer. The Bering Sea, Barents Sea, Baffin Bay, the Sea of Okhotsk, and Hudson Bay are all seasonal ice zones. Renewed winter ice reaches its maximum in late March about the time of the solar equinox. Simultaneously whelping (giving birth) begins in March and peaks in April followed by 2 to 3 weeks of nursing, a time with plenty of ice. The loss of thick multi-year ice over the deep Arctic basin in September has no effect on bearded seals survival.

Heavy sea ice is a bigger threat to bearded seals, so they avoid regions where sea ice cover is more than 90%. Heavy sea ice acts as a barrier that prevents access to their feeding grounds. Each winter bearded seals in the Pacific sector migrate southward as winter ice prevents access to their favored feeding grounds. As sea ice recedes with increasing spring and summer insolation, feeding grounds once again become available. Bearded seals are in competition with other benthic (sea floor) feeders, walrus and gray whales, who likewise migrate into the Arctic as the ice melts. Due to the advantage of accessing the sea floor as soon as dwindling sea ice permits, bearded seals are frequently associated with 70 to 90% sea ice concentrations. Although resting on floating ice above their feeding grounds imparts a small energetic benefit, it is not a life-saving requirement.

For example, although the sample size has been very small, studies of radio-collared seals in the Bering and Chukchi Seas observed those seals rarely hauled out at all, on land or sea ice, even when occupying ice covered areas. The BRT concluded that “at least in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, bearded seals may not require the presence sea ice for a significant part of the year”.

The BRT then manufactured an untested sea-ice threshold based solely on circumstantial evidence to assert whelping and nursing required sea ice concentrations over 25%. As the BRT stated, “Research suggests that, during the time of whelping and nursing, bearded seals prefer areas where the percent concentration of sea ice is >25%. Lacking a more direct measure of the relationship between bearded seal vital rates and ice coverage, the BRT assumed that this preference relationship reflects the species requirements for sea‐ice coverage.” Based Solely on that assumption wherever climate models projected ice falling below 25% concentration, they deemed it “inadequate for whelping and nursing.” [all emphasis mine]

But breeding seals’ ice association is not a matter of preference or a requirement!  To maximize the time spent over accessible foraging grounds, pups are born in the spring when winter sea ice begins its retreat. As the BRT reported, bearded seals prefer foraging in open ice cover where the sea floor is less tan 100 meters deep. Thus, to whelp in April and still remain for over shallow feeding grounds, seals are coincidentally surrounded by extensive winter sea ice. Figure 1 below illustrates the Pacific sector’s potential foraging grounds. White regions mark shallow areas, typically 50 to 100 meters depth. Because bearded seals cannot forage in deep waters (illustrated by the dark blue color), they cannot breed in ice free waters located south of the shallow Bering Sea.

The illustration’s colored lines represent the “ice front” position each month. In March, sea ice concentrations less than 15% are found to the south of the light green line. By peak whelping time in April, heavy sea ice concentrations (turquoise line) largely remain as in March. Thus, during the optimal season for whelping, 99% of their foraging habitat is covered by ice concentrations greater than 15% and as high as 100%. Seals do not prefer to breed in this heavy ice! They are forced to if they want access to required shallow feeding grounds. Consistent with this analysis, the BRT reports during the spring in the eastern and northern Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea, and the Laptev Sea, where much of the first-year sea ice is heavily compacted, breeding bearded seals are not found in any significant numbers.

Bearded seals forced to breed in heavy ice
Figure 1. Monthly location of west Arctic ice front

On the other hand, bearded seals are definitely adapted to survive in ice free waters. Mating always happens in the water. Native Arctic hunters observe seals giving birth in the water. Furthermore, bearded seal pups are well adapted to enter the water immediately after birth. Harp Seals for example require weeks of development on the ice. To thermo-regulate harp seal pups are born with a white fur called the lanugo. The lanugo provides excellent protection from cold air, which is why baby Harp seals were heavily hunted for the fur trade. But the lanugo provides little insulation when wet. So after a few weeks, Harp seals molt their lanugo and gain a protective layer of fat so they can enter the sea. In contrast, most Bearded Seal pups amazingly molt their lanugo within the uterus. They are also born with a thicker layer of blubber and begin foraging in the sea right after birth. So, birthing on an ice floe is more likely a convenience, but not a requirement.

Although it has not yet been reported, newborn pups are probably capable of nursing underwater as well. Based on the amount of time spent in the water right after birth this seems likely. Marine mammals such as whales and manatees must nurse underwater. And although California Sea lion pups primarily nurse on land, they too have been observed nursing underwater.

In habitat where sea ice either melts completely or recedes beyond the limits of shallow-water feeding grounds, bearded seals simply come ashore. Observations of seals on dry land have been documented for the White and Laptev Seas, the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, for Svalbard, the Hudson Bay and the Okhotsk Sea. The Okhotsk and Kamchatka populations thrive in the most southerly part of the seal’s range where ice melts completely each summer. There, bearded seals form numerous shore rookeries comprised of tens to hundreds of individuals, during a time that overlaps with molting.

Finally, their preferred small ice floes do not offer protection from the seals’ 2 major predators. Polar bears are well adapted for surreptitiously swimming up to floating ice and snatching an unwary seal. Killer Whales readily grab a seal from floating ice or tip that ice over, dumping the seal into the water where it is no match for the Orca. Thus, many lines of evidence suggest it is “more likely than not” that observations of bearded seals resting on sea ice platforms is only evidence of a convenience, not a survival requirement.

Small ice floes do not protect bearded seals from their predators

The IPCC Models

The Biological Review Team included one climate scientist, James Overland and he predicts the Arctic will be ice free within the next decade or two. (By “ice free” he means September ice will be reduced to about 1 million square kilometers.). Although there is a general consensus among models that rising CO2 will drive warming and continued ice melt into the future, IPCC models failed to predict the current level of rapid sea ice reduction. Because IPCC models projected currently observed sea-ice reduction would not occur until 2070, Overland believes IPCC models were simply too conservative. However other evidence suggests the models are flawed because they did not accurately incorporate natural variability. Nonetheless, Overland used a select group of 6 IPCC models to convince the courts rising CO2 concentrations threatened to destroy and modify the seals’ sea ice habitat.

For the BRT analysis, Overland culled the most flawed IPCC models. His chosen models had to simulate the seasonal changes in ice cover to demonstrate an accurate sensitivity to changes in solar insolation. In addition, chosen models had to simulate (hindcast), within 20% accuracy, September sea ice extent observed from 1980 to 1999. The number of IPCC models fitting this selection criteria was reduced to six. However, the time span to accurately test the models’ reliability was far too short. IPCC models attempting to replicate 20th century Arctic air temperatures have failed to reproduce the rapid warming from 1920 to 1940. Furthermore, those 6 models failed to accurately simulate observed sea ice extent for individual Arctic basins.

Of Overland’s 6 best models, all 6 only simulated past sea ice correctly in the Chukchi and Siberian seas. Four models correctly simulated sea ice in the eastern Bering seas.  Only one model could simulate recent sea ice in the western Bering and Barents sea. None of the models satisfactorily simulated sea ice in the Sea of Okhotsk, Hudson Bay and Baffin Bay, the Canadian Archipelago, or Greenland, Kara and Laptev Seas. As the BRT correctly cautioned, “loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic cannot be extrapolated to the seasonal ice zones which are behaving differently than the Arctic. For example, the Bering Sea has had 4 years of colder than normal winter and spring conditions from 2007‐2010, with near record sea‐ice extents, rivaling the sea ice maximum in the mid‐1970s, despite record retreats during summer in the Arctic.”

From Gillett 2008: IPCC models fail to simulate natural Arctic warming 1920-1940

As seen in the graph above from Gillett 2008, IPCC model simulations based solely on known natural factors (the blue line labeled NAT), erroneously reported no change in 20th century Arctic temperatures. Observations revealed (the black line labeled OBS) temperatures had naturally oscillated. Actual temperatures compared to model results were as much as 0.6 C degrees higher in the 1930s and 40s but then lower after the 1960s. More disconcerting, when models added the effects of CO2 and aerosols to natural factors (the red line labeled ALL), discrepancies between models and 1940s observations worsened. A modeling study by Johannessen 2004 failed similarly. In contrast to flawed CO2-driven models, it is well-documented that warming from 1920-1940 as well as the current sea ice loss is more parsimoniously attributed to changes in atmospheric and ocean circulations that pump warm southerly air and water into the Arctic. Although judges believed they were presented with the “best scientific models”, those best scientific predictions had failed to simulate past natural climate change.

The BRT did not inform the courts of research that shows a small Arctic cooling trend for the period 1901 to 1997, a trend contrary to the CO2 global warming hypothesis. A similar cooling trend was reported in the 1993 paper, “Absence of Evidence for Greenhouse Warming over the Arctic Ocean in the Past 40 years”. Nor did the BRT discuss research detailing how the loss of sea ice in the 1990s was not caused by warmer air, but by a shift in the Arctic Oscillation resulting in below-freezing winds that pushed thick insulating ice out into the Atlantic.

Furthermore, it’s not obvious that the BRT advised the judges that our best scientific data has observed that past and recent reductions of sea ice have coincided with intrusions of relatively warm Atlantic and Pacific waters. Fishery data shows warming in the 1930s coincided with the arrival of fish normally found further south. Recent analyses show similar northward fish migrations are associated with intruding warm Atlantic waters, driven by natural shifts in the North Atlantic Oscillations and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. In the Atlantic sector, the greatest loss of Arctic ice occurs in the Barents Sea and associated with the pathways of intruding warm water.

Intruding dense salty warm water also generates a reservoir of Arctic heat stored between 100 and 900 meters depth. That heat reservoir can melt all Arctic sea ice several times over. Indeed, the most recent scientific research reveals that warm reservoir has been rising closer to the surface and thinning sea ice. Researchers called this dynamic the atlantification of the Arctic Ocean.

In 2007, the greatest reduction of sea ice happened in the Chukchi Sea. Research by Rebecca Woodgate using mooring and satellite data, documented that the volume and heat content of intruding warm water. She reported Pacific water passing through the Bering Strait into the Chukchi had doubled since 2001. The inflowing Pacific Waters spread across half the Arctic Ocean with a heat equivalent equal to, and up to twice as great, as possible heat estimated from CO2 back-radiation. The amount of heat carried by those intruding waters was comparable to the solar heating of the entre Chukchi Sea.

The resulting enhanced loss of summer and winter sea ice resulted in feedbacks, associated with Arctic Amplification, which has raised Arctic air temperatures at a rate twice the global average. Less insulating ice allows the heat reservoir to more easily ventilate, cooling the ocean but warming the air. Furthermore, researchers show the loss of sea ice reconnects the oceans with the winds causing a stirring effect that brings warmer water to the surface. Less ice lowers the ocean’s albedo allowing more solar heat to be absorbed. Finally, the re-formation of lost ice, releases more latent heat. All those warming effects caused by increased inflows, have been myopically attributed to rising CO2.

Less ice benefits the food web. As outlined by Grebmeir 2015, the productivity in the Chukchi Sea (and likely the entire Arctic ocean) depends on the inflows of nutrient rich waters. The same intrusions of warm water through the Bering Strait that reduces sea ice, also bring vital nutrients that increases productivity, as well as bringing warmth that enhances faster growth. Our best scientific evidence suggests that if the Arctic becomes ice free by mid-21st century, more open water will enhance photosynthesis so that marine productivity will increase by 67%. Thus, it is “more likely than not” that the dynamics that are now reducing Arctic sea ice are also increasing the food supply, not just for bearded seals but for the whole food web. Because bearded seals currently consume a huge variety of fish and invertebrates, it is highly likely bearded seals will easily adapt to any foreseeable changes in the food web.

When the “rest of the story” is told, it seems highly unlikely bearded seals will be endangered by reduced sea ice or warming temperatures. It is the Endangered Species Act itself that is endangered because the Center for Biological Diversity and their ilk abuse the ESA to promote climate fear. Instead what should rightfully evoke our greatest concern is how climate change alarmism is eroding objective science, allowing untestable hypotheses and flawed models to become codified in our legal system.