Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Geological Survey’

Melting Arctic sea ice drives walruses onto land

August 25, 2011

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON | Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:52pm EDT
(Reuters) – Original article here

Photo Credit: Liz Labunski/USFWS

Fast-melting Arctic sea ice appears to be pushing walruses to haul themselves out onto land, and many are moving around the area where oil leases have been sold, the U.S. Geological Survey reports.

Walruses are accomplished divers and frequently plunge hundreds of feet (meters) to the bottom of the continental shelf to feed. But they use sea ice as platforms to give birth, nurse their young and elude predators, and when sea ice is scarce or non-existent, as it has been this summer, they come up on land.

Last September, the loss of sea ice caused an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 walruses to venture onto land, and as sea ice melts reached a record last month, U.S. government scientists are working with Alaskan villagers to put radio transmitters on some of the hauled-out walruses to track their movements around the Chukchi Sea.

“The ice is very widely dispersed and there is little of it left over the continental shelf,” researcher Chad Jay of the U.S. Geological Survey said in a statement on Wednesday. “Based on our tracking data, the walruses appear to be spreading out and spending quite a bit of time looking for sea ice.”

The loss of sea ice puts Pacific walruses at risk, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but other, higher-priority species will get attention first. In February, the wildlife service listed Pacific walruses as candidates for protection, though not protection itself.

Walruses are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which means these animals cannot be harvested, imported, exported or be part of interstate commerce.

Polar bears, which also use sea ice in the Chukchi Sea as platforms for hunting, have been designated as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because of declining sea ice in the Arctic.

Compared to last year’s massive haul-out, there are few walruses on land, and there is no solid count, Jay said.

“There is a lot less ice than there used to be on the continental shelf this time of year,” he said. “So we might be headed into a new normal.”

Transmissions from the radio-tagged walruses offer a good picture of where these creatures are in the Chukchi Sea in a U.S. Geological Survey graphic updated approximately weekly.

SHRINKING ARCTIC SEA ICE

Available online here , the graphic shows where the walruses were when they were first tagged (shown as red Xs) and how they moved around the water (shown as yellow dots).

The graphic also shows changes in sea ice cover in the far north, indicating nearly ice-free conditions in areas where the walruses are moving. Many are within the boundaries of an oil lease sale area that stretches along the northwestern Alaska coast and far into the Chukchi Sea.

Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Statoil hold leases in the Chukchi Sea, though no drilling has started.

Last month saw Arctic sea ice drop to its lowest extent — meaning that it covered the smallest area — for any July since satellite records began in 1979, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Typically, Arctic sea ice hits its lowest extent for the year in September.

This record-low ice extent for July is lower than July ice extent in 2007, when ice extent shrank in September to its smallest area in the satellite record.

(Editing by Sandra Maler)

Alaska Oil And Gas Association Sues Feds Claiming Polar Bear Protected Habitat Too Large

March 5, 2011

DAN JOLING  Huffington Post Original article here

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An Alaska petroleum industry trade group has sued the federal government over its designation of 187,157 square miles as polar bear critical habitat, claiming it covers too much territory and could cost tens of millions or more in economic effects.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association sued Tuesday in Anchorage.

“This is an area larger that 48 of the 50 states, exceeding the size of the State of California by nearly 25,000 square miles,” association attorneys said in the lawsuit.

The designation is unprecedented – the largest area set aside in the history of the Endangered Species Act – and was done for an animal that is abundant, with 20,000 to 25,000 animals in 19 subpopulations, according to the group.

AOGA represents 15 companies that account for most oil and gas exploration, production, refining and marketing in Alaska. The group claims there is no evidence of an overall decline in the global polar bear population or its historical range.

That’s disputed by the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to list bears.

“AOGA’s suit is premised on the fiction that polar bear populations are stable,” said attorney Brendan Cummings in an e-mail.

The two best-studied populations, western Hudson Bay and Southern Beaufort Sea, are known to be declining, he said. The polar bear specialist group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists eight of the world’s 19 subpopulations of polar bears as “declining,” including both of Alaska’s. Seven other subpopulations are listed as “data deficient” for making the call.

A U.S. Geological Survey model prepared before the listing suggested a better than 50 percent chance that polar bears will be extinct in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas under the minimum sea ice model run by 2030. The USGS later noted its projections of sea ice decline appeared to be underestimated.