Polar Bear Module
Ecology - Summary Assignment
An MSE Product: www.ithaca.edu/mse
Directions Provide typed responses to the questions below based on your knowledge of 21st century
problems, your systems analysis of polar bear population dynamics, and your reading of other technical
reports. Before working on this you should review the sheets on the Introduction to 21st Century
Problems, Complex Adaptive Systems, and Panarchy and you may need to review the technical reports
from other disciplines.
(1) Based on your readings of Thermodynamic student's technical reports, why is the maximum ice
melting rate much faster in 2008? How much less energy is reflected by water as compared to sea
(2) The calculus students used curve fitting techniques to model global average temperature and make
predictions based on the curve and the tangent line. Since their model is based on an observed time
series, it is not mechanistic. That is, it does not take into account why temperatures are increasing.
Based on your readings of Thermodynamic student's technical reports, what might not be reflected
in the calculus students’ predictions of future temperature?
(3) Based on your systems analysis, explain what aspect(s) of sea ice dynamics is important to polar
bear survival, and therefore should be the focus of the analysis by Calculus, Data Structures, &
Thermodynamics. Explain why.
(4) You discovered that the total population of polar bears actually exists as a number of
metapopulations. How does this information and knowledge of the different dynamics of each
metapopulation inform the work done by the other groups you are working with?
(5) Sea ice extent is a main topic of both Data Structures and Calculus student’s reports. In calculus
they modeled the sea ice data with a function. How did Data Structures student deal with sea ice
extent information? What is one advantage and one disadvantage of using a function to model sea
ice extent as compared to what data structures students did?
(6) Based on your readings of both the Data Structures and Calculus student's technical reports notice
that Data Structures graphed sea ice for a number of years and Calculus only used 1980 and 2008.
What is striking about the Data Structures graphs of sea ice that the Calculus students didn't
(7) Provide at least one example of why understanding the future impacts of global climate change on
polar bears is a complex problem as opposed to a complicated problem.
(8) The concept of panarchy that you read about includes the concept that local actions can have global
impacts. Give an example of how this applies to the polar bear question and people.
(9) Provide at least one example of why understanding the future impacts of global climate change on
polar bears is a complex adaptive system problem.
(10)Explain why calculus & computational modeling (or mathematics in general) is essential for you (as
an ecologist) in attempting to understand the future impacts of global climate change on polar
bears. In particular, how did the reports from Calculus and Data Structures help in your
understanding the problem? How did these reports inform or alter the construction of your systems
(11)Now that you have read other students' technical reports, what could you have done to improve
your technical report and why?
(12)Now that you have read other students technical reports, did you leave information out of your
report that might have been important to another discipline's understanding of the polar bear
question, and why?