Charles Monnett, whose 2006 report that polar bears had drowned in the Arctic helped boost the global warming movement, has been put on administrative leave by his federal agency.
July 29, 2011
JUNEAU, Alaska — Five years ago, Charles Monnett was one of the scientists whose observation that several polar bears had drowned in the Arctic Ocean helped galvanize the global warming movement.
Now, the wildlife biologist is on administrative leave facing accusations of scientific misconduct.
The federal agency where he works told him he was on leave pending the results of an investigation into "integrity issues." A watchdog group believes it has to do with his 2006 journal article about the bears, but a source familiar with the investigation said late Thursday that placing Monnett on leave had nothing to with scientific integrity or the article.
The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, wouldn't comment further.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the watchdog organization, filed a complaint on Monnett's behalf Thursday with the agency, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
Investigators have not told Monnett of the specific charges or questions related to the scientific integrity of his work, said Jeff Ruch, the watchdog group's executive director. His group released excerpts of interviews investigators conducted with Monnett and fellow researcher Jeffrey Gleason, in which they were questioned about the observations that led to the article.
According to documents provided by Ruch's group, which sat in on investigators' interviews with Monnett, the questioning focused on observations that he and Gleason made in 2004.
At the time, they were conducting an aerial survey of bowhead whales, and saw four dead polar bears in the water after a storm. There were other witnesses, according to Ruch, and low-resolution photos show floating white blobs.
Monnett and Gleason detailed their observations in an article published two years later in the journal Polar Biology. In the peer-reviewed article, they said they were reporting, to the best of their knowledge, the first observations of the bears floating dead and presumed drowned while apparently swimming long distances.
In May 2008, the bear was classified as a threatened species, the first with its survival at risk because of global warming.
Monnett could not immediately be reached for comment.
His wife, fellow scientist Lisa Rotterman, said he had come under fire in the past for speaking the truth about what the science showed, and she feared what happened to him would send a "chilling message" within the bureau at a time when important oil and gas development decisions in the Arctic will soon be made.
"I don't believe the timing is coincidental," she said.