Almost every day now, we see, and read more evidence of the absence of global warming, and it’s (GASP) devastating effects on my beloved polar bears. (sarcasm off)
I would say the furry critters are doing well, as Dr. Susan Crockford from polarbearscience.com illustrates for us.
Many polar bears cubs seen in Svalbard this year, says Norwegian biologist
June 24, 2015 By Dr. Susan Crockford
Good news from Norway: polar bears around Svalbard are in excellent condition this spring and many females with new cubs have been spotted. This is a marked turn around from conditions just last year.
According to a Norwegian news outlet yesterday, Jon Aars (Fig. 1, below), from the Norwegian Polar Institute, confirms that this has been an excellent year for polar bear cubs around Svalbard because there has been abundant sea ice near denning areas on the east coast.
In an interview with Norwegian broadcaster Sigrid Agnethe Hansen (23 June 2015), polar bear biologist Jon Aars from the Norwegian Polar Institute said (via Google Translate and some inference on my part for a few words):
“Last year  in autumn we saw that there was more ice, particularly in denning areas. And throughout the year the ice conditions have held up good… It has been an excellent year, with a lot of ice. It appears that there are many females in good condition that have cubs of the year, and the cubs appear to be in good shape…. Many of the females we saw this year had cubs, and it is natural to believe that the abundance of ice exerted a positive effect. It may be a little difficult to say they [the bears?] are completely safe, as we can not always explain all the variation we see. But it is safe to say [?], that a bad ice year can contribute to the reason why the count of cubs are poor [or low].” [my bold]
Read the whole thing here, in Norwegian [note “isår” is “ice year”; Google Translate offered me “Hungarians” for the word “ungar” which made for an amusing read until I figured out the right word was “cubs” – strictly speaking, “young ones” (as in, “mothers with cubs” rather than “mothers with Hungarians”). Many thanks to Bjorn L. for passing this along with a few translation tips] More photos of Svalbard polar bears here.
Fig. 3 below shows sea ice maps for the fall of 2014 and the fall of 2013 (1 November). It is clear why most pregnant females apparently moved east to Franz Josef Land (discussed here) in the fall of 2013, where ice was more abundant – in 2013 there was no ice around the denning areas on the east coast of Svalbard. They had little choice but to go to Franz Josef Land or make their dens on the sea ice (as many females in the Barents Sea do on a regular basis).
That would explain why few females with cubs were seen in the spring of 2014 around Svalbard – most mothers pregnant with cubs had moved to Franz Josef Land, so that’s where the cubs would have been born. Based on interviews with Jon Aars, media outlets (e.g. the Guardian, 28 May 2014 and CBC, 29 May 2014) made this phenomenon sound like a catastrophe that could only get worse.
One short year later, it’s a completely different story with a very happy ending. The improved ice conditions over last year are almost certainly due to the recent change in state of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) [more here] with perhaps some influence from the newly-described Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), which tends to affect sea ice from November to January (Henderson et al. 2014).1
Such natural variations in sea ice conditions that occur outside the summer season (and which are strong enough to negatively affect local polar bear populations) are the topic of my recent Arctic Fallacy paper published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (Crockford 2015).
Time will tell if the Guardian and the CBC are as eager to report the positive change this year.
[Note, this is the same Jon Aars who gave numerous media interviews a couple of weeks ago regarding the phenomenon of a Svalbard polar bear eating a white-beaked dolphin in April 2014 that got hyped around the world. Somehow, the pronounced turn-around in sea ice conditions that was in progress at the time the dolphin eating occurred (Svalbard had average or above-average sea ice from early August onward, Fig. 3 below) did not enter into the story – if Aars mentioned it, the media didn’t report it.]