Field Notes: The Polar Field Services Newsletter

In The News

Sea Ice Loss Impacts Polar Bear Habitat

Data from a long-term study finds more polar bears in open water or on land, likely as a result of diminishing sea ice. Photo: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Science Daily reports that a long-term study from 1979 to 2005 shows that polar bears today are found more frequently on land and open water than on ice in the fall, increasing the opportunity for human/bear interactions. Published in the December issue of Arctic, the journal of the Arctic Institute of North America, the study documents significant polar bear habitat changes in response to differing ice conditions. Between 1979 and 1987, 12 percent of bear sightings were associated with no ice, according to the study. Between 1997 and 2005, 90 percent of bear sightings were associated with no ice. The number of bears sighted also increased during the study’s duration from 138 bears in the period of 1979 to 1987, 271 bears between 1988 and 1996, and finally to 468 bears between 1997 and 2005. NSF-funded and CPS-supported scientists like University of Wyoming’s Hank Harlow among others, are conducting polar bear research in part to better understand climate change’s impact on the creatures. Scientists studying sea ice extent have identified a decline in fall freeze since the late 1970s, a trend they suggest is related to climate change.

Spies Like Us

A satellite image of the East Siberian Sea from 1999-2008. This image has been degraded to hide the satellite’s true capabilities. Photo: New York Times.

The New York Times reports that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is sharing data with climate science after resuming a collaboration that had been cancelled by the Bush administration. The two disparate groups seek to “assess the hidden complexities of environmental change … and insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests,” according to the article. Last year the collaborators studied reconnaissance satellite images of Arctic sea ice to identify summer melts from climate trends. In addition, the CIA has declassified images of the ice pack to speed the scientific analysis.

Filmmaker To Stop at Seattle Boat Show

The 57-foot Nordhavn Bagan will be on display at the Seattle Boat Show. Filmmaker Sprague Theobald piloted this vessel through the Northwest Passage last year during the making of a documentary. Photo: Northwest Passage Film

If, like us, you have been waiting to get a glimpse of more detailed footage from Emmy Award winning filmmaker Sprague Theobald’s 2009, five-month journey through the Northwest Passage, look no further than the 2010 Seattle Boat Show January 29-February 6, 2010. Theobald will show unreleased footage and give tours of his 57′ Nordhavn Bagan, which transported him and a small crew stocked with family members from Rhode Island to Washington State, via the Arctic.

In Out of The Cold

While much of the northern hemisphere is experiencing unusually bitter cold temperatures, climes in the far north are much warmer than usual. According to a report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the December average air temperatures over the Arctic Ocean region, eastern Siberia and northwestern North America ranged between 2 to 7 degrees Celsius. According to the report, Arctic Oscillation (AO) is likely causing the temperature disparities. Scientists refer to the current trend as a “negative phase” of AO, defined by high pressure systems in the Arctic and lower-than-normal pressures in middle latitudes.

The image below shows air temperature anomalies for December 2009, at the 925 millibar level (roughly 1,000 meters [3,000 feet] above the surface) for the region north of 30 degrees N.  Warmer-than-usual temperatures over the Arctic Ocean and cooler-than-normal temperatures over central Eurasia, the United States and southwestern Canada are documented here. Areas in orange and red correspond to strong positive (warm) anomalies. Areas in blue and purple correspond to negative (cool) anomalies.

Source: National Snow and Ice Data Center, courtesy NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division

Arctic Studies Pioneer Dies

Arctic studies pioneer and philanthropist Evelyn Steffannson Nef died on Dec. 9, 2009, at 96. Founder of Dartmouth College's arctic studies program, Nef also published two books on the Arctic. Photo: Courtesy news.uchicago.edu

Evelyn Stefansson Nef died Dec. 9, 2009 in her Washington D.C. home at the age of 96. Nef was an author and philanthropist, and along with her husband, she helped found the first arctic studies program at Dartmouth College. Nef’s first two books, published in 1943 and 1946 respectively, were about Alaska and the Arctic. The University of Alaska granted Nef an honorary doctorate in 1998 for her foundational role in the early days of the field of arctic studies. Read more about Nef’s life here.

—Rachel Walker