Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR

https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/507852-dems-say-interior-botched-study-of-polar-bears-in-pursuit-to-drill

BY REBECCA BEITSCH – 07/17/20 03:07 PM EDT 6144,433

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Democrats say Interior botched polar bear study in pursuit to drill ANWR

© Getty Images

Democratic lawmakers are pushing back against Department of the Interior plans to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR,) arguing the agency wasn’t thorough before concluding that drilling activity wouldn’t harm local polar bears.

A review of the environmental impacts of drilling in the area “makes the unsupportable conclusion that industrializing the entire Coastal Plain—including the most important terrestrial denning habitat for among the most imperiled polar bear population on the planet—will not jeopardize the survival and recovery of the species,” Democratic lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee wrote to Interior in a letter spearheaded by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

“This fundamentally flawed analysis ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence that identifies devastating impacts to polar bears from oil and gas activities,” they added.https://b28bdec9e40d5dff0a2190c2694e4e23.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

The so-called biological opinion produced on the topic came after the department in February made the unusual decision to open its research to public comment. The already peer-reviewed research looked at how seismic activity from the oil and gas industry affects polar bear “denning” as they raise their young cubs.

Environmentalists and scientists raised the alarm, calling it an attempt by the Trump administration to discredit its own government scientists.

“What it looks like to me is they’re giving industry the opportunity to negate the study,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The 2017 tax bill opened the door to drilling in the arctic, something Interior noted in its response.

“Representative Huffman and the other Democrat members who signed this erroneous letter apparently don’t understand that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in 2017 requires an oil and gas leasing program in the Coastal Plain. It would serve them well to have a better, basic understanding of the laws under the jurisdiction of the Committee,” the department said in an email.

A number of major banks, including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, have already pledged not to finance any drilling in ANWR.

The department recently finalized another rule that would allow hunting tactics that make it easier to kill bear cubs and wolf pups in Alaska.

The rule, finalized in June, ends a five-year ban on baiting hibernating bears from their dens, shining a flashlight into wolf dens to cause them to scurry, targeting animals from airplanes or snowmobiles and shooting swimming caribou from boats.

Native groups object to prison sentence of Kaktovik man who shot and wasted polar bear

Chris Gordon, center, sits during a meeting about polar bear management in Kaktovik in June. He agreed to plead guilty Friday to a single count of shooting and killing a polar bear in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska’s Energy Desk)

After a Kaktovik man was found guilty of killing and wasting a polar bear in a small North Slope village, several prominent Alaska Native organizations are calling the sentence “inappropriate.”

Kaktovik resident Chris Gordon shot and killed a polar bear outside his home in December 2018. The bear was drawn by whale meat that Gordon left out in his yard.

A Facebook post by Kaktovik resident Chris Gordon showing the dead polar bear that he shot outside his house, where it was trying to eat frozen bowhead whale meat. (Courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Related: Kaktovik is crawling with polar bears. Now a man is going to prison for wasting one.

As an Alaska Native from the region, the Marine Mammal Protection Act allows Gordon to kill polar bears as long as he harvests them. However, Gordon left the bear carcass untouched months until he eventually had it burned it at a village dump.

Late last month, Gordon was sentenced to three months in prison, and a $4,500 fine, for wasting the bear.

Now, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, as well as the Native Village of Kaktovik, are criticizing the sentencing. In a statement, the commission wrote that because Gordon is a hunter, sending him to prison and limiting his hunting is also “a punishment of his children, Elders, and other community members who rely on him for food.”

The commission says a punishment should’ve been handed down by “civil, locally-driven penalties within a cultural and traditional context.”

This isn’t the first time the commission has weighed in on the case against Gordon, a whaling captain who is a member of the commission, according to federal court documents. Those same documents say that when a Kaktovik local, identified as T.S., posted a video of the dead bear on Facebook and expressed concern, the AEWC attempted to “pressure” the woman to remove her post, saying it could do harm to whaling and subsistence rights.

Polar bears in Baffin Bay skinnier, having fewer cubs due to less sea ice

 

NEWS RELEASE 

UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON

Polar bears are spending more time on land than they did in the 1990s due to reduced sea ice, new University of Washington-led research shows. Bears in Baffin Bay are getting thinner and adult females are having fewer cubs than when sea ice was more available.

The new study, recently published in Ecological Applications, includes satellite tracking and visual monitoring of polar bears in the 1990s compared with more recent years.

“Climate-induced changes in the Arctic are clearly affecting polar bears,” said lead author Kristin Laidre, a UW associate professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. “They are an icon of climate change, but they’re also an early indicator of climate change because they are so dependent on sea ice.”

The international research team focused on a subpopulation of polar bears around Baffin Bay, the large expanse of ocean between northeastern Canada and Greenland. The team tracked adult female polar bears’ movements and assessed litter sizes and the general health of this subpopulation between the 1990s and the period from 2009 to 2015.

Polar bears’ movements generally follow the annual growth and retreat of sea ice. In early fall, when sea ice is at its minimum, these bears end up on Baffin Island, on the west side of the bay. They wait on land until winter when they can venture out again onto the sea ice.

When Baffin Bay is covered in ice, the bears use the solid surface as a platform for hunting seals, their preferred prey, to travel and even to create snow dens for their young.

“These bears inhabit a seasonal ice zone, meaning the sea ice clears out completely in summer and it’s open water,” Laidre said. “Bears in this area give us a good basis for understanding the implications of sea ice loss.”

Satellite tags that tracked the bears’ movements show that polar bears spent an average of 30 more days on land in recent years compared to in the 1990s. The average in the 1990s was 60 days, generally between late August and mid-October, compared with 90 days spent on land in the 2000s. That’s because Baffin Bay sea ice retreats earlier in the summer and the edge is closer to shore, with more recent summers having more open water.

“When the bears are on land, they don’t hunt seals and instead rely on fat stores,” said Laidre. “They have the ability to fast for extended periods, but over time they get thinner.”

To assess the females’ health, the researchers quantified the condition of bears by assessing their level of fatness after sedating them, or inspecting them visually from the air. Researchers classified fatness on a scale of 1 to 5. The results showed the bears’ body condition was linked with sea ice availability in the current and previous year — following years with more open water, the polar bears were thinner.

The body condition of the mothers and sea ice availability also affected how many cubs were born in a litter. The researchers found larger litter sizes when the mothers were in a good body condition and when spring breakup occurred later in the year — meaning bears had more time on the sea ice in spring to find food.

The authors also used mathematical models to forecast the future of the Baffin Bay polar bears. The models took into account the relationship between sea ice availability and the bears’ body fat and variable litter sizes. The normal litter size may decrease within the next three polar bear generations, they found, mainly due to a projected continuing sea ice decline during that 37-year period.

“We show that two-cub litters — usually the norm for a healthy adult female — are likely to disappear in Baffin Bay in the next few decades if sea ice loss continues,” Laidre said. “This has not been documented before.”

Laidre studies how climate change is affecting polar bears and other marine mammals in the Arctic. She led a 2016 study showing that polar bears across the Arctic have less access to sea ice than they did 40 years ago, meaning less access to their main food source and their preferred den sites. The new study uses direct observations to link the loss of sea ice to the bears’ health and reproductive success.

“This work just adds to the growing body of evidence that loss of sea ice has serious, long-term conservation concerns for this species,” Laidre said. “Only human action on climate change can do anything to turn this around.”

###

Co-authors of the study are Eric Regehr and Harry Stern at the UW; Stephen Atkinson and Markus Dyck at the Government of Nunavut in Canada; Erik Born at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources; Øystein Wiig at the Natural History Museum in Norway; and Nicholas Lunn of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Main funders of the research include NASA and the governments of Nunavut, Canada, Greenland, Denmark and the United States.

For more information, contact Laidre at 206-616-9030 or klaidre@uw.edu.


 

 

Polar bears face swimming to land or ‘ecological trap’ as sea ice diminishes

Outdoor Alaska: Dimishing sea ice prompts polar bear behavior changes
Volume 90%
 

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Changing sea ice conditions are forcing polar bears to adapt. New research shows that a growing percentage of polar bears are coming to land and becoming dependent on human provisions for food, while those that stay on the dwindling sea ice to continue natural polar bear behavior may be floating on an ecological trap.

The USGS researchers used GPS collars with a camera, accelerometor and other scientific tools to track and analyze the bears’ behaviors.

Researchers with the USGS Alaska Science Center have noticed the behavioral changes in polar bears on the Southern Beaufort Sea over the last 15 years and more recently a team began studies to determine which behavior was better for the bears. The researchers used GPS collars with video cameras and an accelerometer to track the bears, calculate how much energy they used, and compare the energy requirements of coming to land during summer months versus staying on the sea ice.

“Going into it we thought it’s surely going to be more energetically expensive to come to shore, because often times bears are staying on the sea ice until the last possible minute before they come to shore,” Todd Atwood, a research wildlife biologists with USGS said. “In some cases bears are swimming 400, 500 kilometers to get to land. Swimming is a lot more energetically expensive than walking. So we expected them burn through a lot more energy to get to land, and that’s what we found.”

By pairing the GPS camera collar with a tri-axial accelerometer, the researchers were able to estimate how much energy bears used for different behaviors by calculating overall dynamic body acceleration.

Grizzlies, black and polar bears found together for 1st time

Polar bears, black bears, and grizzlies have been found together for the first time during a University of Saskatchewan research project in northern Manitoba.
 Polar bears, black bears, and grizzlies have been found together for the first time during a University of Saskatchewan research project in northern Manitoba. University of Saskatchewan / Supplied
University of Saskatchewan researchers said they made an unprecedented finding – all three species of North American bears in the same subarctic region.

The researchers documented polar bearsblack bears, and grizzlies in Wapusk National Park on the west coast of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man.

READ MORE: Draft plan says Nunavut has too many polar bears and climate change isn’t affecting them

“These sightings are consistent with expected ecological responses to the amplified effects of climate change on high-latitude ecosystems,” said Douglas Clark, a conservation scientist at the U of S School of Environment and Sustainability.

“Our observations add to growing evidence that grizzlies are substantially increasing their range in northern Canada.”

Researchers said they observed the bears between 2011 and 2017 using motion-activated cameras.

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5 fun facts about grizzly bear hibernation at Saskatoon zoo

What was new in the observations, said Clark, were the grizzlies.

“It’s likely that they will benefit the most because they have been known to dominate the other two species elsewhere, for instance eating both black bears and polar bears, or displacing them,” he said.

However, Clark said, large black bears could have the upper hand when encountering a young grizzly, while smaller species of bears will modify their behaviour to avoid grizzlies.

Clark said the big question is how the interactions will affect bear conservation and management efforts.

He said the overlap could be due to climate change as bears seek out new or expanded habitats for food sources.

“This range overlap shouldn’t be viewed as a threat to any of these bears, but should be understood as an ecological response to environmental change.”

He added Wapusk is at the convergence of the boreal forest, tundra, and ocean ecosystems that are all changing quickly with climate change.

The polar voyage being threatened by thin ice

FROZEN NORTH

ENVIRONMENT

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20191014-climate-change-arctic-expedition-finds-itself-on-thin-ice

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We hear the ice before we see it. The first sound is a scraping whine as a chunk of ice etches its way down the hull of the ship. The shelves creak as the cabin starts to shake. Out the window, I see a piece of ice floating 10m (33ft) or so away – a bluish, three-humped blob about a metre (3ft) across. It bobs up and down in the waves.

Then a few more rounded and weathered chunks appear. Another one hits the hull with a heavy clonk, and we hear it bounce below the waterline three or four times as it moves down the side of the vessel.

The ship I’m on – the German icebreaker Polarstern – is making its way north to the edge of the Arctic sea ice to find a floe to moor itself too. There, more than a hundred scientists will set up a floating city on the ice. The expedition, known as Mosaic, seeks to build the first detailed profile of the Arctic environment year-round by spending a year trapped in the sea ice. (Read more about the Mosaic mission to the Arctic.)

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The first obstacle standing in their path, however, is the ice itself. Not thick, impassable ice that leaves the Arctic Sea impenetrable at the height of winter, but rather the lack of it. They need a substantial floe strong enough to support the research base they are hoping to build.

But the ice is getting less extensive each year, and it is also getting thinner. The strong ice necessary to support large infrastructure – not least a runway and a 30m (98ft) tall meteorology tower to be used by Mosaic – is growing scarce. Climate change has lent an urgency to the mission.

Mooring the ship to an ice floe that is too thin is risky as it could easily break up in storms or the ocean currents (Credit: Sebastian Grote/AWI)

“This may be one of the last years we can do this kind of expedition,” says Matt Shupe of the University of Colorado, who first began planning the mission 10 years ago and now leads its atmospheric research programme. He is one of hundreds of scientists taking part in the expedition in the hope of unravelling exactly what impact global warming is having in the Arctic, and what the consequences will be for the wider world as the environment around the North Pole changes. I am one of the few journalists to be invited to witness the work they are doing.

It is our fifth day at sea when we first meet ice, high within the Arctic Circle at a latitude of around 81 degrees north. Ahead of the ship is the first stretch of dense ice that Polarstern must navigate. This tendril of frozen ocean extends down from the ice cap, brushing past a trio of remote Siberian islands. We skirt past the islands, aiming for a narrow band of less densely packed ice that should give us easier passage. From there, we head a little further east before the Polarstern turns north to crush its way into the densest, central ice.

“When we first came to the North Pole with Polarstern, we needed another icebreaker to assist us through the ice,” says expedition leader Markus Rex of the Alfred Wegener Institute. “Last time, the ship just cut through the ice easily alone.”

Sometimes this elastic-looking ice becomes milky and whitish, flexing with the shape of the wavelets

After hearing the impact of the first isolated lumps of ice bashing into the hull, I start listening out for our first full-on icebreaking. I become aware of tiny sounds and vibrations in the ship, going to the window to check each time. “When you hear it, you’ll know it,” says my cabinmate, Nicole Hildebrandt, a zooplankton researcher at AWI.

Out on the deck, the chunks of ice become gradually more frequent and larger, their irregular shapes below the waterline sometimes bright turquoise. Others are brown, coated underneath rotten ice rich in diatoms, algae and occasionally sediment. In the open water between these stretches of ice, the waves have died down from four metres high (13ft) to almost nothing, giving the ocean a glassy surface.

In the open stretches, I start to notice strange structures just below the surface. They look like jellyfish – translucent and almost invisible – suspended just below the surface of the water. This is the seawater starting to freeze. It stretches out in broad fronds in the direction of the wind. Sometimes this elastic-looking ice becomes milky and whitish, flexing with the shape of the wavelets.

On the bridge of the Polarstern, volunteers take turns looking out for the changing ice conditions while the crew search for the right floe to moor to (Credit: Esther Horvath/AWI)

As we travel further in, Stefan Hendricks, one of the expedition’s ice team, asks for volunteers for the ice watch, to log observations of the amount and types of ice we pass through. I sign up for a daily slot. On the bridge, Hendricks tells me the names for the different kinds of ice that I have been noticing. They have poetic names: frazilshuga and nilas ice. Then there is pancake, grease and cake ice.

As sea water freezes, it first forms crystal discs known as frazil, eventually forms a suspension in the water known as grease ice, which creates an iridescent sheen like an oil slick. Waves and wind can compress the ice crystals together to form pancake ice that floats on the ocean surface. As these pancakes grow bigger they become cakes. On calmer seas, the frazils grow to form a continuous expanse of dark, glassy layer of ice, like a windowpane on top of a black sea. Shuga ice is slushy mess created by spongey white lumps that bob in the water.

We travel past most of these different types, but looking out from the bridge windows across this forming ice-scape, I scan fruitlessly for elusive frost flowers that Hendricks tells me can occasionally be spotted.

We feel the ship fall heavily back to level and then tilt briefly to the other side, accompanied by the sound of large pieces of ice booming into the hull below

When we eventually encounter thicker ice on the fifth day, the sensation of the ship breaking through is indeed unmistakeable. From the centre of the ship in the Red Saloon, the faint sound of scraping along the hull grows a little louder and the ship begins to judder. Then the ship hits a large section of ice and pitches sideways, sending my coffee climbing diagonally up one side of the glass mug it is in.

Those of us in the saloon lean over to keep our balance. After what could be 10 seconds or so, we feel the ship fall heavily back to level and then tilt briefly to the other side, accompanied by the sound of large pieces of ice booming into the hull below. We encounter these very large pieces of ice a few times an hour, usually catching us off-guard, amid the more constant gnawing, shaking and bumping through the thinner ice.

The Polarstern needs to find a stable ice floe on which to set up its research base before the long winter darkness sets in (Credit: Markus Rex/AWI)

Researchers at Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute have been tracking likely ice floes for Mosaic in the Central Arctic Ocean all through the summer. They have been using data from several satellites, hoping to find those which have survived the storms and melting. Before departure in Tromsø, on the Norwegian coast, Rex showed me images of the target region he had in mind. It was a region at around 85 degrees north and 135 degrees east.

“There we will find our sweet spot,” he says, pushing his glasses up to his forehead and looking at an app on his phone. The screen shows black and white specks – how the ice shows up in the images. He points out a darker oval in the image – the darker the ice appears, the thinking goes, the thicker and more robust the ice should be. The ice in the target region is looking like it will be 80cm thick, according to the data available. “We’d prefer one metre, one metre 20 (3 to 4ft) – but 80cm can work,” says Rex.

There is a week or so budgeted to find the right floe. Once safely moored, the ice will freeze around Polarstern, trapping the vessel and its crew in place so they will drift with the floe on an unpredictable path across the polar region, creeping on average from east to west through the year. But, choose a bad floe, or even a good floe in the wrong place, and the camp is at risk of collapse. “It’s the only real decision, the only degree of freedom we have,” says Rex.

What happened to N-ice would be really, really bad. We need to avoid that – Markus Rex

In the Blue Saloon, a formal room named for the colour of its carpet and chairs, the leaders of the expedition meet to discuss the preliminary results of their search. They sit at a large round table, books on Soviet Arctic research and polar wildlife on glass-fronted shelves behind them. Rex reopens his laptop and pulls up a map of the Central Arctic.

“This is the statistics of how the drift will happen based on the selection of our starting point,” he says, pointing to a spaghetti diagram of multicoloured lines across the map. Each line represents the drift trajectory of ice at a given starting point for the past 12 years, based on tracking features in the ice from day to day. Rex fiddles with the settings on the app and the team around the table lean in to see, setting a starting point of 120 degrees east and 85 degrees north.

“A large fraction ends up in the N-ice area,” he says, with a glance around the table. “And you know what happened to N-ice.”

N-ice was a smaller scale Norwegian Arctic drift expedition in 2015, whose floes kept breaking up as they drifted into the warm Atlantic swell. It meant that the group had to disband their camp and relocate several times. “What happened to N-ice would be really, really bad. We need to avoid that. We can’t allow drift trajectory that goes into that area,” says Rex. “We can’t completely rule it out, and we might end up in an N-ice-like situation but we don’t want that.”

Large cracks can appear in the sea ice within a few hours and then can disappear again almost as quickly in the fast changing Arctic environment (Credit: Sebastian Grote/AWI)

Rex tweaks the parameters again, to a starting point around 135 degrees east, 85 degrees north. “This is more the type of drift we want,” he says. Many of the colourful squiggles work their way up over the North Pole and down towards the western side of the Fram Strait. But some of the lines are curtailed, ending their year’s drift still stuck at the North Pole. “There is a large uncertainty still, as we see,” says Rex. “One of these trajectories gets into a danger zone off the coast of Greenland.”

The team flick through different scenarios. Some starting points end up in dangerous areas, while others meander out of the High Seas and into the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone, where the team does not have permission to do research.

But ensuring the ship doesn’t drift into a problematic area is only one of the factors that will determine the success of the expedition. Another is the resupply missions for the ship, which will also be used to exchange crew and scientists on board. None of the team is staying for a full year, with most only there for one leg of the expedition. If Polarstern drifts too far into thick winter ice, or out of range of the supply aircraft – two research planes and Russian long-range helicopters among them – then the scientists risk being cut off.

With all these requirements in mind, a spot at 135 east and 85 north soon appears to be the only region that stands a likely chance of meeting the mission’s requirements. “It’s not guaranteed,” says Rex. “Nothing is guaranteed on this expedition.”

The thin ice that has posed problems for the expedition could also be a growing issue for the polar bears that live in the Arctic (Credit: Esther Horvath/AWI)

More:

Nunavut has a new polar bear management plan: NWMB

“We are going to do what we can do to get this in place before this season”

Nunavut’s new polar bear management plan brings in a one-to-one male-female harvesting ratio for all Nunavut subpopulations, says the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board. (Photo by Jane George)

Nunavut has a new polar bear management plan: NWMB

(Updated on Sept. 26 at 1:30 p.m.)

CAMBRIDGE BAY—The Government of Nunavut has approved a new polar bear management plan.

That was the news from the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to members of the Kitikmeot Regional Wildlife Board at its annual general meeting in Cambridge Bay.

The cornerstone of the new polar bear management plan is the one-to-one male-female harvesting ratio for all Nunavut subpopulations, the NWMB chair, Dan Shewchuk, told those at the meeting.

The gathering in Cambridge Bay is the first of three regional wildlife board annual meetings that he and Jason Akearok, the NWMB’s executive director, plan to attend.

Akearok said getting the polar bear management plan done has been “quite a feat.”

“We are going to do what we can do to get this in place before this season,” he said.

The plan has been under consideration for nearly five years, with a big discussion about the draft plan last March in Iqaluit at an NWMB board meeting.

The plan will be in effect until 2029.

Of the circumpolar world’s 19 subpopulations of polar bears, 12 are found mainly in Nunavut.

There are quotas now for each of those subpopulations—and defence kills fall under annual quotas for each community.

While the new plan won’t increase quotas right now, new total allowable harvests, as the quotas are called, will be considered as new data comes.

Under the previous plan, Nunavut communities could only hunt one female polar bear for every two male polar bears hunted through an annual allotment of community polar bear tags.

That applied everywhere except to a Baffin Bay subpopulation of polar bears, where a one-to-one male-female harvesting ratio was in place.

Under the new plan, it won’t make any difference if a polar bear harvested in Nunavut is a male or female, as long as the balance between males and females is maintained. Cubs will count as a half tag.

The new one-to-one harvest ratio should allow communities to continue with defence kills, when needed.

Polar bear incursions into communities have been an increasing concern in the territory after two deaths by polar bear mauling in the Kivalliq region last year—but, under the current management plan, the defence killing of a polar bear, when female, has counted as two tags. This has left some communities with no more tags to count on after a defence kill.

The new plan will also encourage communities to engage in polar bear deterrence, Shewchuk told Nunatsiaq News.

But he has previously said that aggressive polar bears are harmful to Inuit culture and lifestyle, because of damage to cabins, bird colonies and seal populations.

Those at the meeting in Cambridge Bay welcomed news of the change in the polar bear management plan.

They were also pleased to learn that the Kitikmeot region will have five more tags for grizzly bears. A large grizzly bear was seen, and later shot, after roaming around an area close to Mount Pelly where there are many cabins.

Elsewhere, the reaction to the new polar management plan could be mixed.

Polar bears face an uncertain future due to threats posed by climate change, according to a 2018 assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The committee, known as COSEWIC, once again assessed polar bears as a “special concern.” That means the species may become threatened or endangered because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Scientists will face polar bears, isolation and darkness on Arctic mission to study climate change

Bremerhaven, Germany — Three hundred scientists have been training in sub-zero temperatures in preparation for the trip of a lifetime. They will spend months trapped in sea ice, as part of a year long Arctic expedition, called MOSAiC, studying the effects of climate change. The expedition sets off from Norway on September 20.

“We are looking at creating a whole picture of what the Arctic is going to do in the coming years,” said Alison Fong, who heads up MOSAiC’s ecosystems research team.

Polar bears are a major concern, and she might have to swap her microscope for a rifle scope.

“All of our scientists are trained in polar bear safety, which includes carrying a rifle for protection. When we work in remote sites on the ice, we will take small electrical fences with us and personnel carrying rifles and flare guns and other types of safety equipment,” Fong said.

Home base is a German icebreaker, the Polarstern. It will be fitted with scientific equipment, turning it into a floating laboratory.

patta-climate-arctic-ice-mission-frame-1765.jpg
The Polarstern will serve as home base for scientists studying climate change in the Arctic.  CBS NEWS

What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. It’s generally considered an early warning system for the impact of climate change, and scientists are hoping the expedition on this ship will raise their understanding of it to a whole new level.

Getting a taste of what lies ahead, the scientists practiced using a remotely controlled device which measures light through the ice, and drilling through the core to assess ice thickness.

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth but scientists have never been able to conduct research in the remote northern parts of it during winter. Now they will attempt an unprecedented scientific mission. The crew will sail close to the North Pole, cut the engine and wait for water to freeze around the vessel. They will then simply drift with the ice flow.

“You have seen that in the U.S. at the beginning of this year when the snowstorms and blizzards went down to Florida — that is all driven by climate change in the Arctic, and we need to understand that to understand how our extreme weather in the future will look like,” said Markus Rex, the expedition leader.

patta-climate-arctic-ice-mission-frame-2660.jpg
Scientists will brave the Arctic in order to study the effects of climate change.  CBS NEWS

Mental fortitude during this mission is a formidable challenge. The scientists are bracing themselves for long periods of total isolation and complete darkness. In the winter months they will never see daylight. But freezing yourself in ice is worth it, they believe, if it helps save humanity from the extreme consequences of a warming world.


CBS News, along with more than 250 news outlets worldwide, is participating in the Covering Climate Now project, a joint initiative founded by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation magazine. CBS News, the only broadcast network, is devoting this week to covering climate change, leading up to the United Nations Climate Action Summit  in New York on September 23.

One simple reason we aren’t acting faster on climate change?

Images like that of a polar bear on a melting ice field are iconic. But in terms of getting people to act on climate change, they may be ineffective. Here’s why.

 

We’ve all seen how powerful images can make abstract crises feel concrete. Think of the photographs of a Chinese man blocking a column of tanks a day after the Tiananmen Square massacre, a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing from napalm in 1972 or of 7-year-old Amal Hussain wasting away from hunger in Yemen. When done well, photographs help people around the world make sense of unseen disasters.

Now close your eyes and try to picture climate change – one of our generation’s most pressing crises. What comes to mind? Is it smoke coming out of power plants? Solar panels? A skinny polar bear?

That’s problematic, says psychologist Adam Corner, director of Climate Visuals, a project that aims to revitalise climate imagery. “Images without people on them are unable to tell a human story,” says Corner.

Researchers have found that images like this one lack a humanising element

Researchers have found that images like this one lack a humanising element that makes them compelling… (Credit: Getty)

…compared to a photograph like this, which shows the local, human impact of pollution

…compared to a photograph like this, which shows the local, human impact of pollution (Credit: Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR)

And that kind of imagery might be a big part of why so few of us are prioritising climate action.

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• How climate change will transform business and the work force

Climate change has an inherent image problem. While you can clearly visualise plastic pollution or deforestation, climate change has a less obvious mugshot: the gases that cause global warming, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are colourless, while impacts are slow-paced and not always visually striking.

So in the 1990s, reporters, politicians and others began using the sort of imagery that would help us begin to grasp the situation. That idea helped us understand the subject then. But it now needs revamping. For one thing, climate impacts are more evident now: take the frequency of wildfires, coastal flooding, droughts and heat waves.

Because most people aren’t that familiar with how coral should normally look

Because most people aren’t that familiar with how coral should normally look, researchers found that an image like this one, of coral bleaching, had less impact… (Credit: Getty)

a real person doing research on climate change’s impact on the coral

…than an image like this one, which shows a real person doing research on climate change’s impact on the coral (Credit: NPS)

But another reason to update climate change’s visuals is that, for the general public, ‘traditional’ climate images aren’t that compelling.

Wondering if there was a better way to tell climate change stories, Climate Visuals tested what effect iconic climate images – like that lonely polar bear – really had.

Although iconic, an image of an animal most people have never seen

Although iconic, an image of an animal most people have never seen, living in a place they have never been, may not be as effective… (Credit: Getty)

The search for Hurricane Katrina survivors

…as this image of the search for Hurricane Katrina survivors, which shows the impact of climate change in a more recognisable environment (Credit: Master Sgt Bill Huntington)

After asking people at panel groups in London and Berlin and through an online survey with over 3,000 people, the team concluded that people were more likely to empathise with images that showed real faces – such as workers installing solar panels, emergency respondents helping victims of a typhoon or farmers building more efficient irrigation systems to combat drought.

The researchers found that images like this one often don’t make an impact on the viewer

The researchers found that images like this one often don’t make as much of an impact on the viewer… (Credit: Getty)

as this kind of image

…as this kind of image, which participants thought was an intriguing take on solar energy that encouraged them to want to know more (Credit: Dennis Schroeder/NREL)

It also helped when photographs depicted settings that were local or familiar to the viewer, and when they showed emotionally powerful impacts of climate change.

Respondents in their study were also cynical of ‘staged’ pictures… and of images with politicians.

Climate Visuals’ quest is not entirely new. For over a decade, scholars have analysed the way NGOs and governments represent climate change visually, examined how the public reacts to different types of images and come up with new approaches. What it’s done differently, though, is to create the world’s largest climate image library based on those lessons.

Researchers found that a picture like this one, which highlights an individual behaviour

Researchers found that a picture like this one, which highlights an individual behaviour, can create a defensive reaction in the viewer… (Credit: Getty)

Pork meat production (Credit: Qilai Shen/Panos Pictures)

..while a striking image like this, which shows high-emissions meat production at scale, was more effective (Credit: Qilai Shen/Panos Pictures)

And for better or for worse, it’s no longer that difficult to find human-led photographs of the consequences of climate change.

“The stories we need to tell are all around us in a way they were not 20 years ago when the polar bear became an icon,” says Corner.

Hungry polar bear seen wandering the Russian city of Norilsk

By Gianluca Mezzofiore and Nathan Hodge, CNN

A hungry and exhausted young polar bear was spotted wandering in the suburbs of the Siberian industrial city of Norilsk this week, hundreds of miles from its usual habitat.

This is just the latest recent sighting of a bear in a Russian urban area, but the last time a polar bear appeared near Norislk was more than 40 years ago, Anatoly Nikolaichuk, head of the Taimyr Department of the State Forest Control Agency, told Russian state news agency TASS.

“He is very hungry, very thin and emaciated. He wanders around looking for food. He almost doesn’t pay attention to people and cars,” Oleg Krashevsky, a local wildlife expert who filmed the animal close up, told CNN. “He is quite young and possibly lost his mother.”

“He probably lost orientation and went south,” Krashevsky added. “Polar bears live on the coast which is more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) away from us. How he got to Norilsk is not clear.”

Sea ice across the Arctic is rapidly retreating due to climate change, forcing the bears to travel farther to find food.

Local residents were warned to be careful entering the tundra zone of the Talnakh region, where the bear was seen, according to an announcement from the local civil defense and emergency situations ministry on TASS.

The animal was first seen by a group of teenagers, who filmed it and posted the video on Instagram, Krashevsky said.

“I saw it was not fake and raised the issue with local authorities,” he said. “As an expert on bears, I went to look for him … I found him in the middle of the day.”

Local news site NGS24.RU on Wednesday quoted Andrei Korobkin, the head of the state department of wildlife protection, as saying that experts would be arriving from Krasnoyarsk to examine the bear and determine possible symptoms of exhaustion or physical trauma.

The specialists will bring provisions as well as medicine to restore the bear’s health, NGS24.RU reported.

Polar bears are on the International Red List of Threatened Species and in the Red Book of Russia of endangered species. Citing experts, TASS said there are 22,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the world. In the north of Krasnoyarsk, a vast administrative region in Siberia, the bears inhabit the coast and islands of the Arctic Ocean, the agency added.

In April, a starving polar bear was spotted in the village of Tilichiki in the far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, also hundreds of miles from its usual habitat.

In February, the remote Russian archipelago of Novaya Zemlaya declared a state of emergency over what local authorities described as an “invasion” by dozens of the hungry animals.