Saturday, April 28, 2012


date: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 09:29:42 +0100
from: "Saffron O'Neill" <>
subject: Fw: Polar bears in a changing climate
to: "Mike Hulme" <>, <>, "Irene Lorenzoni" <>

Dear all

FYI, the response from Andrew of the PBSG regarding the potential expert

----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: "Saffron O'Neill" <>
Sent: Tuesday, October 10, 2006 5:14 AM
Subject: Re: Polar bears in a changing climate

Dear Saffron,

Sorry for the delay in responding but I have been travelling the past
3 weeks. I would be willing to take your proposal to the PBSG if you
could provide a brief 1-2 page outline of what would be expected from
each participant (similar to what you have provided). I don't think
Peter Molnar would have the breadth of insights to assist question
construction. His field experience is limited and he comes to the
area with expertise in mathematics and model construction.

If you can give me a timeframe for this it would also help. I know
the various PBSG members are deep into status reviews of polar bears
in Europe, USA and Canada so things are very tight on time just now.

So, if you can provide a 1 page overview then I will forward it to the
membership to see if they are willing to participate. Is there a
minimum number of people that you need to do this? The PBSG is a
small group of ca. 20 people.

Best regards,

Andrew Derocher
Chair, IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group

Quoting Saffron O'Neill <>:

> Dear Andrew
> Thanks for your previous email.
> I've been refining the details and the protocol for carrying out this
> potential expert elicitation. The research team here (Prof. Mike Hulme,
> Dr. Tim Osborn, Dr. Irene Lorenzoni and myself) think it could be a
> really interesting use of the Delphi elicitation method, but more
> importantly for you, it could perhaps provide an outlet for the latest
> scientific knowledge regarding polar bears and climate change (before
> Peter's thesis perhaps covers this). I'm hoping members of the PBSG
> would find this an interesting exercise as well as providing a
> potentially publishable document which can be referenced to when probed
> for the latest thoughts regarding polar bear dynamics and climate
> change.
> Just to give you a quick intro to what an expert elicitation involves
> in case you haven't come across the method before - it is a structured
> process to elicit subjective judgements from experts. Within this
> definition, experts are defined as those who have special skills or
> knowledge in a particular field, and a judgement is defined as the
> forming of an estimate or conclusion from information presented to the
> expert. Expert elicitation is widely used to quantify risk
> uncertainties where there is a lack of empirical data to infer on
> uncertainty and it has the potential to make available knowledge that
> may not be easily accessible otherwise. Expert elicitation aims to
> include the views of a wide variety of experts and can reveal the level
> of expert disagreement. The judgement of the expert is usually
> represented as a 'subjective' probability density function (PDF).
> The Delphi technique is one such technique for combining expert
> judgements for a risk analysis. It is a well established iterative
> technique that allows the participants to view previous responses from
> the group in comparison to their own. As the participants' identity
> remains anonymous throughout - from taking part to report write-up,
> they can modify their answers if they wish without experiencing
> pressure to do so: for example, using an expert elicitation conducted
> via the web allows anonymity of experts within the group, and allows
> experts to speak outside of their professional capacity. Participants
> can be asked to combine their scientific knowledge with judgement based
> in part on advice, discussion with colleagues (though not other
> participants in the elicitation) and intuition.
> The basic procedure would be as follows. PBSG members would be asked to
> participate, and it would be ideal if you could endorse this, as well
> as participate yourself. The exercise would take place via the WWW so
> updates to the iteration could be made quickly. Those willing to
> participate would be asked to access a webpage containing some material
> on which to base their judgements. I have asked Peter's advice on the
> sort of information I would present in order for the experts to be able
> to make a judgement - these will be to a particular time period and
> scenario and are likely to be maps or timeseries of yearly ice extremes
> and open water concentrations. You'll appreciate that whilst I have
> told Peter the details of these and have asked for his input on what
> information would be most pertinent, if you are able to participate in
> the expert elicitation these details must be disclosed at the same time
> as the other participants receive them! The webpage would be online for
> around 14 days, during which time experts could log on and update their
> elicitations in view of others submitted. Each iteration should not
> take longer than around 20 minutes. After the 14 days, the website
> would close and the results would be analysed and presented back to the
> participants.
> As you both said, I think asking those who are current PBSG members
> would be an excellent idea as a predefined expert group. Therefore,
> Peter would not contribute to the exercise directly. However, I'd
> really appreciate it if he could check over the potential expert
> elicitation questions - I could do with some input to whether a polar
> bear specialist would consider them essentially, an 'answerable'
> question. Of course, if Peter contributes directly to this exercise he
> would be acknowledged, and there would be the potential for
> collaboration with the results into publishable research. My deadline
> for completing the whole exercise is the end of December this year - a
> tight timescale, I realise!
> Thanks for all your advice so far and I look forward to hearing if you
> think this is a suitable proposal.
> Regards,
> Saffron
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Andrew Derocher"
> <>
> To: "'Saffron O'Neill'" <>; <>
> Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 3:39 PM
> Subject: RE: Polar bears in a changing climate
> Dear Saffron,
> There are various groups that you could approach for such an exercise but
> the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group members is likely the
> organization
> that could best assist. There are about 20 members from the 5 circumpolar
> nations. I cannot speak to the intentions of all members relative to
> responding to such a request but I will assist as best I can. One of the
> problems with polar bears and climate change issues is that most members
> are
> inundated with requests from students, the press, film makers, and the
> interested public. It can be a daunting task to deal with all inquiries.
> Further, given that many members represent government agencies and thus
> have
> to follow an organizational process, they may not be able to express a
> personal opinion on certain elements.
> I will try to assist as best I can but there are 3 status reviews of polar
> bears underway (Canada, USA and Europe) so the issue is likely to be
> political as well as scientific.
> Best regards,
> Andrew
> Andrew E. Derocher, Ph.D.
> Chair, IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group
> Professor
> Department of Biological Sciences
> University of Alberta
> Edmonton, AB
> T6G 2E9
> Phone: (780) 492-5570 Fax: (780) 492-9234
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Saffron O'Neill []
> Sent: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 8:28 AM
> To:;
> Subject: Re: Polar bears in a changing climate
> Dear Peter and Andrew
> Thank you both for such in-depth and thoughtful replies to my email. I
> apologise for it taking so long for me to get back to you.
> Since you both replied, I've had an in-depth look at all the literature,
> particularly those references you have suggested, as well as Peter's email
> detailing the current state of knowledge surrounding climate change and
> polar bears. It's all been really fascinating, a total change from my
> usual
> subject area.
> After talks with my supervisor, we have agreed probably the best way to go
> forward on this is to attempt to carry out an expert elicitation: that is,
> to either interview polar bear experts with an interest in polar bear /
> climate dynamics by phone or ask these experts to complete a questionnaire
> by email. The format would involve asking for potential projections of
> polar
> bear dynamics under one particular climate scenario (SRES A1B) to the year
> 2050 (I would provide the specific information on ice-extent).
> I realise that this situation is not in any way perfect, but I think it is
> the only way for this aspect of my research to proceed using the best
> available scientific knowledge. At the moment, the expert elicitation is
> still in its formative stages but I anticipate I'd be collecting the data
> in
> late autumn/winter.
> It would be great if either or both of you would like to take part in
> this.
> Indeed, if either of you have ideas of other experts in this field who may
> like to take part (ideally not all from your particular lab) this would be
> greatly appreciated.
> Many thanks again for all your help, and I look forward to hearing from
> you
> soon.
> Saffron
> ----- Original Message ----- From: <>
> To: "Saffron O'Neill" <>
> Sent: Monday, July 31, 2006 10:44 AM
> Subject: Re: Polar bears in a changing climate
>> Dear Saffron,
>> Thanks again for your email.
>> I have come across a lot of concern regarding the future of the polar
>> bear
>> myself when talking to all kinds of people. I have also noticed that
>> there
>> are many, many more documentaries about the Arctic on German television
>> than a few years ago; I don't think I have ever seen as many
>> documentaries
>> about polar bears before. As you describe, the polar bear seems to be a
>> charismatic species that many people can relate to, not unlike the panda,
>> which has been serving as a conservation symbol for a long time now. But
>> more than that, there is a lot of ecological merit in monitoring the
>> polar
>> bear closely: due to the relative simplictity of arctic foodwebs and its
>> position at the top of the food chain it makes a good indicator species.
>> That is, changes in the general arctic ecosystem will most likely be
>> reflected in the status of polar bear populations.
>> As you know, my thesis is among others concerned with evaluating the
>> possible effects of climate change on the population dynamics and life
>> histories of polar bears.In order to be able to make scientifically sound
>> projections I try to use a modelling approach to project the population
>> dynamics/life histories of polar bears under certain environmental
>> conditions, similarly to what you have described in you email. However,
>> through my studies I have found two basic difficulties with this
>> approach:
>> 1) which climate model should we take, and 2) how will polar bears react
>> to a certain climatic change.
>> The first point can be circumvented by choosing a particular model or
>> range of models. The second problem, however, I found to be far more
>> complicated. The problem is that, even though data has been collected for
>> more than 30 years, we lack information about how polar bears would
>> respond to specific climatic situations. This makes it fairly difficult
>> to
>> make specific projections of polar bear populations under climate change.
>> It is simply very hard to say, how flexible the bears are when dealing
>> with different situations.
>> I don't know if you know these two references, but they should give
>> you a
>> good idea about the possible effects of climate change on polar bears:
>> Striling, I. and Derocher, A.E. 1993. Possible impacts of climatic
>> warming
>> on polar bears. Arctic 46: 240-245.
>> Derocher, A.E., Lunn, N.J. and Stirling I. 2004. Polar bears in a
>> warming
>> climate. Integr. Comp. Biol. 44(2): 163-176
>> Anyways, in order to deal with the second problem, I have decided not
>> to
>> focus on the population dynamics as a whole, but rather to build
>> mechanistic models that describe parts of the population dynamics (e.g.
>> the life histories of bears, the mating system, predator-prey dynamics
>> etc). With such an approach, the models then include the mechanisms which
>> we think shape these dynamics (e.g. time to feed before the ice breaks up
>> in summer), and the models are then validated agains data from the past,
>> and if the models describe the past correctly, then we can make some
>> statements about how the population processes will be affected if climate
>> change affects some of the underlying mechanisms. I think this to be the
>> right approach, as predictive models should include as much realism as we
>> can justify from past datasets.
>> Unfortunately, I have to disappoint you as far as publications are
>> concerned. I'm currently finishing up the first paper of my thesis, which
>> deals with the mating system of polar bears. Polar bears are not only
>> threatened by climate change, but more acutely by possible sex-selective
>> over-harvest, which might reduce the number of males to a point where
>> there will be too few males to impregnate all females. I do have some
>> interesting results there with respect to how climate change might affect
>> the mating system, as well, but they are not published yet. I expect this
>> to happen hopefully by the end of the year. Once the paper has been
>> accepted I'll make sure to send you a copy. After that, there are a few
>> options for me, but I will possibly deal with the issue of climate change
>> more directly, maybe focussing on how earlier break-up of the ice in
>> spring affects reproduction and life histories of the polar bear, or the
>> predator-prey system. I realise that this is probably not of much help to
>> you.
>> Note that simple models for the population dynamics of polar bears do
>> exist, such as a projection model called RISKMAN that incorporates the 3
>> year reproductive cycle of polar bears (which standard matrix models
>> don't). The software is available from the PBSG website that Andy sent
>> you. I have chosen not to use it myself, as I believe that without
>> incorporating the specific mechanisms that could be affected by climate
>> change, the model output would remain speculative, but it might be of
>> some
>> use to you.
>> I'm sorry that I can't be of much more help at this stage, but I make
>> sure
>> to let you know about any upcoming publications. I'm also very interested
>> to learn more about your work, and would appreciate if you could also let
>> me know about your results, or maybe publications that you are
>> planning. Have you decided what modelling approach to use yet?
>> Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. Best wishes,
>> Peter
>> Quoting Saffron O'Neill <>:
>>> Dear Peter Molnar.
>>> Let me introduce myself. My name is Saffron O'Neill and I am also
>>> researching for a PhD, supervised by Prof. Mike Hulme of the Tyndall
>>> Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, UK.
>>> I am most interested in your work on polar bears under a changing
>>> environment.
>>> My research is centred around finding more salient methods of
>>> communicating climate change to the lay-public. My PhD is
>>> interdisciplinary, and aims to harness the emotive and visual power of
>>> 'icons' with a rigorous scientific analysis of possible changes under a
>>> different climate future. I am developing an 'iconic approach' as the
>>> lay-public finds it difficult to relate to the abstract concept of
>>> climate change, but finds it easier to focus on one particular,
>>> spatially
>>> located, icon. (I've attached my PhD abstract should you want to know
>>> more).
>>> I've investigated a variety of social networks, and polar bears have
>>> emerged as a really salient icon for a wide variety of audiences. Hence,
>>> I now have the task of modelling (whether semi- or fully-quantitatively)
>>> the population dynamics of polar bears under a particular climate
>>> future,
>>> probably the SRES A1B. Finally, I will take this information back in a
>>> communication exercise to a UK audience to assess the potency of the
>>> 'iconic approach'.
>>> I have come across your PhD work on the University of Alberta website
>>> when searching for information about polar bears and potential climate
>>> change. I am most interested in your thesis and would greatly appreciate
>>> it if you could point me in the direction of any relevant literature you
>>> may (or may not yet) have published. I see you started your PhD in 2003,
>>> so am assuming you may be writing up now?
>>> I look forward to hearing from you soon.
>>> Regards,
>>> Saffron O'Neill (PhD Researcher)
>>> Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
>>> Zuckerman Institute for Connective Environmental Research School of
>>> Environmental Sciences University of East Anglia
>>> Norwich, NR4 7TJ
>>> United Kingdom
>>> T: +44 (0) 1603 593 911
>>> F: +44 (0) 1603 593 901
>>> E-mail:
>>> Web:


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