Arctic Sea Ice

The Arctic Ocean is an ecologically and climatologically important region, and it is warming at a rate two times faster than the global average. Even more troubling, global climate models using the IPCC business as usual scenario predict an increase in average Arctic temperatures of 7°C (12.6°F) by 2100. The rapid warming of the last 33 years has already impacted Arctic sea ice cover, with 2012 representing a new minimum in ice cover and an 80% loss in summer sea ice volume. Furthermore, diminishing sea ice plays a central role in amplifying Arctic warming. This is a positive feedback loop: increasing temperatures lead to a loss of sea ice, which in turn amplifies warming, speeding loss of even more ice. The Arctic has many such positive feedbacks and tipping points, which leave it extremely sensitive to global climate change.

Due to the rapid climate changes already experienced in the Arctic, including swift temperature rise and changing seawater chemistry (called ocean acidification), the Arctic is considered one of the ecosystems most stressed by climate change1. Sea ice is a central element in the Arctic ecosystem with more than 1000 unique species depending on it for their survival. Rapid environmental changes may lead to shifts in where animals can live, altered food webs, and extinctions for these cold-loving animals who call the Arctic home. Ocean acidification is particularly prevalent in the Arctic and some parts of the Arctic are already undersaturated with respect to a mineral many organisms use to build their skeletons and shells, leaving these organisms vulnerable.

Climate change is being acutely felt in the Arctic and this magnitude of warming has many serious policy implications. Changes in the Arctic Circle will affect the rest of the world through additional greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise, and changes to global ocean circulation. Unfortunately, due to the difficulties of working in the harsh Arctic environment, there is a great scarcity in baseline data on the Arctic4. Greater international cooperation on policies regarding the Arctic and joint-funding for scientific work are needed to monitor this rapidly changing polar ecosystem.

Contact Information

Ocean Scientists for Informed Policy
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92083-0202