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Daily Archives: 9. December 2015 − News & Stories


Sval­bard ice free: pregnant fema­le polar bears can’t access den­ning are­as

The cur­rent ice chart of Sval­bard is heart­brea­kin­gly white. After a good ice win­ter in 2014-15, with a lot of ice espe­cial­ly on the east side of Spits­ber­gen, the cur­rent ear­ly win­ter is a com­ple­te disap­point­ment:

Ice chart of Decem­ber 9, 2015 from the Nor­we­gi­an Meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te. The seas around Sval­bard are com­ple­te­ly ice free.

ice chart Svalbard

All over the arc­tic, the cur­rent ice situa­ti­on is wit­hin the lower ran­ge of the average of recent deca­des. Accord­ing to the Natio­nal Snow and Ice Data Cen­ter, Novem­ber 2015 is on place 6 of the nega­ti­ve list of bad ice years, but wit­hin two stan­dard devia­ti­ons of the average, which can be cal­led “lower average” to keep things easy. But in the Sval­bard regi­on, things look worse. After a very ice-rich win­ter in 2014-15, which gave the polar bears a good repro­duc­ti­ve sea­son, the cur­rent sea­son does not start good at all. The last Novem­ber with so litt­le ice was in 1991.

Even tho­se are­as in eas­tern Sval­bard which tra­di­tio­nal­ly have a lot of ice like Nord­aus­t­land, Kong Karls Land and Hopen are cur­r­ent­ly com­ple­te­ly ice free. This means trou­ble for pregnant fema­les who need to get to sui­ta­ble are­as to get estab­lis­hed in snow caves whe­re they should give birth in just a few weeks from now. Some fema­les may alrea­dy be on the­se islands, and in theo­ry, others may swim the­re. Gene­ral­ly spea­king, polar bears are excel­lent swim­mers and easi­ly able to cover ama­zing distan­ces in the water. Pregnant fema­les, howe­ver, need to be very care­ful with their ener­gy reser­ves, as they are total­ly depen­dent on their fat reser­ves for several mon­ths around birth. She can­not hunt and eat bet­ween late Novem­ber and late March and has to sur­vi­ve herself and feed her off­spring (usual­ly two cubs) ent­i­re­ly on her fat reser­ves.

Tra­di­tio­nal­ly, fema­les return to the same den­ning are­as to give birth. It is uncer­tain if at least some have cur­r­ent­ly moved fur­ther east to Franz Josef Land, whe­re ice con­di­ti­ons are cur­r­ent­ly bet­ter. But if they know that ..?

Ice con­di­ti­ons have always been vary­ing stron­gly from year to year, but the trend to bad ice years is clear, in spi­te of the strong ice win­ter 2014-15. Altog­e­ther, a clear sign of ongo­ing cli­ma­te chan­ge, making clear how important a strong result of the cur­rent cli­ma­te nego­tia­ti­ons in Paris would be.

Polar bear fami­ly in July 2015 in Horn­sund: good ice con­di­ti­ons espe­cial­ly befo­re and after birth are of vital impor­t­ance.

polar bear family Hornsund

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten

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