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Study tracks big drop in Pacific walrus numbers

PHOTO: U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY Melting Arctic sea ice is forcing walrus colonies into a shore-bound existence to which they aren't adapted. Scientists say they've documented several cases of young calves being trampled in stampedes.

 Melting Arctic sea ice is forcing walrus colonies into a shore-bound existence to which they aren’t adapted. Photo courtesy USGS.

Melting sea ice likely a factor in population decline

Staff Report

FRISCO — With a 2017 endangered species listing deadline looming, federal researchers are trying to pinpoint Pacific walrus population numbers. In the newest study, the U.S. Geological Survey said the population dropped by about half between 1981 and 1999, but scientists aren’t sure if the numbers have stabilized since then.

in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the species was under pressure from sea ice loss and over-harvesting, but didn’t formally add the Pacific walrus to the endangered species list. A federal court said the agency must make a final determination by 2017. Continue reading

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Online Arctic sea ice atlas unveiled

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Tracking Arctic ice. Image courtesy NASA’s Blue Marble website.

New tool to help coastal and ocean planners in the region

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With Arctic sea ice at an all-time record low for late January and the melt season about to begin, researchers have created a new online tool that helps put ice conditions in historical perspective. Continue reading

Global warming: More coastal habitat for geese in Alaska due to rising temperatures, melting sea ice

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A family of black brant geese in Alaska, Photo courtesy USGS.

Some species may benefit from climate change

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Dwindling sea ice spells trouble for polar bears and walrus colonies, but some other animals are benefiting from global warming — at least for now.

Warming temperatures have resulted in more high quality habitat for geese along the Arctic coast of Alaska, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study.

The research focused on  black brant geese that migrate by the thousands each summer to the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska to undergo their wing molt, during which time the birds are flightless for three weeks. This molting period requires high quality food to give the birds the energy necessary to replace worn feathers and also extensive open water areas where birds can escape from predators. Continue reading

Climate: Winds driving Antarctic sea ice growth

Global warming likely to reverse trend in coming decades

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Antarctic sea ice extent has been growing the past few decades, bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Climate scientists have long suspected that increasing winds around Antarctica have been the main cause of growing sea ice extent in the southern hemisphere, and new research from the University of Washington shows how and why that might be happening — even as overall global temperatures warm.

Global warming deniers have tried to use the growth of Antarctic sea as a weapon in their battle against science, but climate researchers point out that the loss of Arctic sea ice far outweighs the small increase in the southern hemisphere. And the new research suggests that, as global temperatures continue to increase, Antarctic sea ice is all but certain to start shrinking.

Overall, Antarctic sea ice has been increasing by about 1 percent annually, which has led to record sea ice extent in the region the past few years. As of September 16, Antarctic sea ice extent reached about 7.51 million square miles, a record for the date and about 3.9 percent above the 30 year average. By contrast, this year’s Arctic summer minimum ice extent is approximately 30 percent below the 30-year average. Continue reading

Climate: Parts of the Arctic getting greener

Researchers are trying to identify the consequences of dwindling sea ice. Photo courtesy University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Researchers are trying to identify the consequences of dwindling sea ice. Photo courtesy University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Study shows fundamental ecosystem changes under way

By Summit Voice

Sea ice decline is already changing some Arctic ecosystems in fundamental ways, according to University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists. As part of review team, the two researchers showed, for example, that disappearing sea ice leads to a loss of sea-ice algae, at the very base of the Arctic marine food web. Larger plankton is thriving, replacing smaller, but more nutrient dense plankton. What that means exactly is not yet understood.

“Our thought was to see if sea ice decline contributed to greening of the tundra along the coastal areas,” said Uma Bhatt, an associate professor with UAF’s Geophysical Institute. “It’s a relatively new idea.” Continue reading

Study: Declining sea ice not good for polar bears

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A detailed new study shows how declining sea ice affects polar bear migration. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Research may help explain declines in cub production and body condition

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A 10-year study of polar bears around western Hudson Bay offers new clues to how the predators will cope with global warming.

The research, published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology, focused on how sea ice conditions drive polar bears’ annual migration on and off the ice.

Polar bears have adapted to the annual loss of sea ice by migrating onto land each summer. While there, they cannot hunt seals and must rely on fat reserves to see them through until the ice returns.

“The data suggest that in recent years, polar bears are arriving on shore earlier in the summer and leaving later in the autumn,” said Dr. Seth Cherry, of the University of Alberta. “These are precisely the kind of changes one would expect to see as a result of a warming climate and may help explain some other studies that are showing declines in body condition and cub production.” Continue reading

Climate: German researchers document dramatic Arctic ecosystem changes linked with melting sea ice

On a voyage

On a voyage to the central Arctic Ocean, German researchers documented significant changes to marine ecosystems linked with melting Arctic sea ice. Photo courtesy Alfred Wegener Institute.

Massive algae blooms change composition of sea floor food chain

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Arctic Ocean ecosystems are sure to change in as-yet unexpected ways as sea ice continues to shrink. This summer, German Polar researchers and microbiologists documented one of those changes, observing an unprecedented bloom of ice-loving algae on patches of thin summer ice.

The researchers hypothesized three years ago that ice algae could grow faster under the thinning sea ice of the Central Arctic. This past summer’s observations support the hypothesis: The ice algae were responsible for almost half of the primary production in the Central Arctic Basin. The paper is published in the journal Science.

“We were able to demonstrate for the first time that the warming and the associated physical changes in the Central Arctic cause fast reactions in the entire ecosystem down to the deep sea,” said Lead researcher Dr. Antje Boetius, of the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. Continue reading

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