Anorak News | An Inconvenient Truth about drowned polar bears

An Inconvenient Truth about drowned polar bears

by | 1st, October 2012

USED to seeing press photographs of seemingly stricken polar bears sat on tiny cubes of ice, it’s heartening to read that the symbol of global warming is doing fine.

In the Chaunsky district of Chukotka, Russia, a woman decided to feed one poly on chicken legs. She tossed them at the bear. The bear tossed her, grabbing the woman and dragging her to the tundra.

Policeman Sergei Terekhov heard the screams. The took hold of his gun and killed the beast.

Still, sad news for some. After all, polar bears are dying out, aren’t they? Al Gore told us so. In his film An Inconvenient Truth, Gore showed us this:

That video was rooted in the work of Charles Monnett. When the scientist from the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management saw four dead polar bears floating in the Arctic, he conducted some research and concluded that melting seas ice, as a result of global warming, was causing the bears to swim further to reach land. Tired out they were dying.

Monnett was soon investigated by the Obama administration. Had he sued false data to construct a bleak picture of life in the Arctic? In March 2010, Obama gave the go ahead for offshore drilling in the Arctic. The investigation into Monnett’s work began around the same time.

That investigation is over. The Guardian sees the result and tells its readers:

US polar bear researcher cleared of scientific misconduct

Campaign groups described the findings as a victory for Monnett, who until last year oversaw much of the government’s scientific work in the Arctic. It was also an embarrassment for the Obama administration, whose two-and-a-half-year investigation uncovered no evidence of major wrongdoing.

“This has been a vindication of Dr Monnett in that they found no scientific misconduct or anything related to his scientific work that merited any sort of discipline or personnel action,” said Jeff Ruch, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which had led the defence of Monnett.

But he said the official reprimand, though minor in terms of disciplinary action, was sobering. “It reads as if it was motivated by attempts during the Obama years to clog leaks and root out environmental dissidents inside the department of interior having to do with Arctic drilling.”

The Alaska Despatch sees the same story and produces a very different headline:

Renowned Alaska scientist reprimanded by federal investigators

…The inquiry by the Office of the Inspector General for the Interior Department into Monnett and ecologist Dr. Jeffrey Gleason, both BOEM scientists at the time, came just as the offshore hunt for oil in U.S. Arctic waters and public awareness of the plight of polar bears were intensifying. Pro- and anti-oil factions were working hard to gain sympathy and an advantage at the local and national level. When Monnett and Gleason discovered dead polar bears floating in the Beaufort Sea in 2004, they realized they were on to something significant, and worked swiftly to become first in the scientific community to publish their findings just two years later. By 2008, the polar bear was officially listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened, largely based on projected survival rates derived from forecasts about the toll that climate change — less polar sea ice and more open water swims — would have on the bears.

The results of the IG’s investigation, published Friday, suggest that Monnett and Gleason were sloppy with their polar bear data and that Monnett was secretly padding the war chest of anti-oil activists with confidential internal government emails pertaining to drilling in the Arctic by Royal Dutch Shell, an oil giant that, after years of delays, now has a ship hovering over a site in the Beaufort, poised to sink its drill. Those emails would turn up in a court case that effectively stopped Shell’s drilling plans in 2007 and 2008 — a problem for Monnett’s employer since the Minerals Management Service, the predecessor to BOEM, had been the government agency to approve Shell’s drilling plan.

All very interesting.

The Seattle Times headlines the story:

Scientist who saw drowned polar bears reprimanded

An Alaska scientist whose observations of drowned polar bears helped galvanize the global warming movement has been reprimanded for improper release of government documents.

Is it a story of open government, or one of agendas? The Alaska Despatch:

Investigators concluded Monnett disclosed government emails to others outside the agency, including sending emails to Rick Steiner, the former University of Alaska professor who has been highly critical of the oil industry’s ability to respond and clean up oil spills.

During the investigation, federal agents also found that Monnett, who once oversaw a budget of more than $50 million, mishandled a sole-source contract and did not manage it in a way that complied with federal procurement policy.

The Inspector General’s report makes no conclusions about whether Monnett or Gleason were engaged in scientific misconduct.


The IG’s report raises questions about whether the scientists submitted fraudulent data to make an politically advantageous observation about the perils faced by polar bears in a changing world. It questions the propriety of a claim by the authors that no dead polar bears had ever been observed prior to 2004 in long-running aerial studies of bowhead whales in the region.

It’s possible that other researchers had observed dead bears prior to 2004 but that those observations were not entered into the historical record reviewed by Monnett and Gleason, the report noted.

No autopsy was performed on the dead animals.

The Inspector General also questioned why the men intentionally underestimated in the article the significance of seeing 10 bears swimming, and then on another series of flights, four dead bears floating in the same area. Monnett told investigators it was rare to see bears swimming, let alone find floating dead ones: in the prior 25 years of surveying, only 12 bears had been seen swimming and none drowned. Monnett and Gleason’s article speculated that if the 10 swimming and four dead bears accurately reflected about 11 percent of polar bears present at the time, “36 bears may have been swimming in open water” and “27 bears may have died as a result of the high offshore winds.”

The implications were grim. But the IG pointed out, if Monnett and Gleason had followed their extrapolation model instead of suppressing it, the number of estimated bear fatalities could have been higher. So why keep the estimate low?

“We didn’t want somebody to go nuts with it,” Monnett told investigators.

Monnett had told investigators that he knew Arctic activists, non-governmental environmental organizations, would use the data as a powerful fundraising tool. Yet the IG uncovered evidence that Monnett had received correspondence from at least one NGO, the World Wildlife Federation, before his article was published. WWF had written to say it was increasingly interested in Arctic conservation and was considering a fundraising campaign that centered on the possibility more polar bears would drown “as a result of climate change over melting ice.”


When the IG suggested during its investigation that Monnett’s underestimation of potential deaths may have actually helped the NGO raise money, Monnett rejected the allegation, and instead said he was looking for the opposite effect. “The reason we understated it is because we wanted to avoid it,” Monnett told investigators, “it” being the report’s use as a lucrative tool for NGOs to raise cash. “I am not a climate change campaigner.”

The IG also uncovered dissent within MMS over whether Monnett and Gleason should have ever been allowed to let the article go to print. Some criticized the article’s use a of single year’s observations to foreshadow a trend. And others said it was improper to suggest climate change and longer swims were partly to blame for the drowned bears, when the real culprit was a fast-moving, tumultuous storm.

“I don’t think it would have changed anything,” Monnett told investigators when asked whether more focus on the storm would have devalued their scientific conclusions. “Because it is clear. Everybody knows the reason the storms are there is related to the retraction of the sea ice. And most people would say that it is related to climate change.”

Rebecca Noblin, who heads the Arctic programme for the Centre for Biological Diversity opines:

 “After years of dredging through Dr Monnett’s files looking for damning evidence against the scientist, all the inspector general could come up with is that Dr Monnett disclosed documents that should have been public in the first place,” she said in an email. “If there were more people like Dr Monnett in BOEM, maybe we’d see more drilling decisions based on science rather than politics.”

Finally, know that polar bears are outstanding survivors of climate change. Well, so she says. Dem bones:

Such are the facts…


Posted: 1st, October 2012 | In: Strange But True Comment | TrackBack | Permalink