In a study published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters, Dr. Kent Moore, professor of physics and Vice Principal of Research at the University of Toronto Mississauga, highlighted how the “last ice area” is under threat and melting at potentially twice the rate of the rest of the Arctic Ocean. This “multiyear” Arctic ice is critical to the survival of not only endangered species, but the entire Arctic ecosystem which depends on the timing and thickness of the ice to sustain itself.
The area Moore is referring to is located alongside the Canadian coast, from the Canadian North to Greenland. It is expected to be, due to climate conditions, the last area to melt in response to climate change. This multiyear ice is required by walruses and polar bears for hunting and is essential for seals who raise their young on the ice until the baby seals are able to swim on their own. Recent discoveries have also found algae which powers marine food webs growing underneath the Arctic ice.
There is a broad range of species dependent on Arctic ice which will be unable to breed or feed as the ice melts. Whales arrive in Arctic waters in June, expecting to encounter phytoplankton blooms. However, because of the ice melting, the blooms have already occurred earlier that year. Polar bears which live on-shore no longer have access to sea ice to hunt seals. As a result, they eat less nutritious prey to cope leading to the starvation of their population.
This area also impacts terrestrial and marine weather which are all interconnected through the global climate system. The impact extends not only to North America, but to the tropics as well, as the loss of the ice means less sunlight being reflected back into space and ultimately, the planet’s surface temperature increasing drastically. Furthermore, the influx of freshwater during the spring melting contributes heavily to abnormal ocean current patterns.
On a more positive note, this last ice area is located within Canadian borders. With Canada being an Arctic country, suggestions of sanctuaries to protect this area are becoming more common. Unfortunately, however, the area is very poorly understood. Moore explains that though the area was once considered to be in a static state, it is actually very dynamic with large areas of recession and growth along with a high level of variability across the coast. There is also a possibility that in some places, the area is disappearing at twice the rate of the surrounding Arctic Ocean. Moore acknowledges that studying Arctic ice is very difficult due to limited resources, manpower, and data, and therefore, there is a lot of uncertainty in the projection for future climate in this area.
Moore states that there are three things currently occurring: the ice is getting thinner, it is moving more rapidly, and we’re losing vast areas of the land. Protecting this vital area of land will provide a surviving chance to Arctic species such as polar bears. Moore urges for more research studying climate projections and strong policy changes that balance economic opportunity and wildlife conservation in the Canadian North.
“You can see the [Arctic ice] retreating and it has happened over my lifetime. It’s depressing but all we can do is hope that we can educate enough people [so] that change will come. And I’m hoping. I’m really hoping that your generation will not make the mistakes that my generation made and actually do something.”