Climate Change and the Loss of Sea Ice...

Climate Change and the Loss of Sea Ice in the Arctic

by Canadian Wildlife Federation
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Climate change affects every part of the world in a different way, but most experts agree the North will be impacted more than any other region. Sea ice spans most of the Arctic’s coastal and inter-island channels from eight to 12 months of the year and supports a number of species. It’s expected to undergo the most significant transformation.

The effects of climate change in the North are not new occurrences. Actually, changes have been happening for quite some time. Over the past 25 years, Inuit and scientists have observed a decrease of roughly seven percent in sea ice area, with the largest rate of decrease during the summer months.

Using highly scientific models of prediction, it has been determined that if warming trends continue at their current rate, by the end of this century the Arctic Ocean will be nearly ice-free during the summer.

If Arctic sea ice melted away …
Large sections of the Arctic Archipelago would open up.

This would create more noise, traffic, pollution and safety issues for both humans and wildlife.

Because of increased noise, traffic and pollution, marine ecosystems would be disturbed. Sea ice is a major control on the interactions between marine and terrestrial ecosystems.

The undersurface of sea ice is a growth site for algae and invertebrates that sustain the food web (a food source for many types of fish). If sea ice melted away there would be a decrease in amounts of sub-ice phytoplankton, a key source of food for copepods and fish.

The fish that depend on phytoplankton for food are a main source of nutrition for narwhals, beluga whales and seals. Fish contamination by metals has always been a concern in the Arctic, but should sea ice melt and water temperatures become warmer, the situation may become worse. Fish like Arctic char would be more prone to a higher metabolic rate due to heavy metals, such as cadmium mercury and lead, and this would pose a health risk to the humans who eventually eat them.

Polar bears depend on seals for food. Because of sea-ice depletion and a decrease in marine food, seal populations would drop, having a direct impact on polar bears. Due to starving bears, there would be a decrease in polar bear births — an event that has already been recorded.

Human beings are ultimately being affected by a decrease of sea ice in many ways. Northern communities have reported changes in the physical environment over the last 20 to 30 years. They have not been able to hunt as much because of a lack of traditional food species such as fish, seals and whales. Hunters depend on these species not only for food but also for money, as they can sell tusks or furs. In addition, a warmer climate could cause difficulty in conserving perishable food through cold-storage or natural freezing. Should sea ice thaw and the Arctic Archipelago open up there would be safety issues because the area would be more prone to landslides, floods and overall lack of coastal stability.

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