The Last Ice Area | WWF-Canada
	© Students on Ice-WWF

The Last Ice Area

What is the Last Ice Area?

Only one Arctic region is expected to retain its summer sea ice until 2050: this is the Last Ice Area.

This region in the high Arctic of Canada and Greenland was identified using cutting-edge sea ice models, and it’s projected to be the last stronghold of summer sea ice as the Earth continues to warm due to climate change. In the coming years, it will be essential as an enduring home for wildlife, and therefore for the communities that depend on those species.

© Students on Ice / WWF-Canon

Right now, WWF is collecting scientific and traditional knowledge as part of an effort to secure a healthy future for this region in the face of rapid climate change and increased industrial development in the Arctic.

Where is the Last Ice Area?

This animated map shows the extent of summer sea ice projected for 2050, as viewed from the north pole. The prediction is for a fringe of ice to remain in Northern Canada and Greenland when all other areas of summer ice are gone.

Planning a future for the Last Ice Area

Now that we know how critical this region will be for ice-dependent species, it’s time to explore management options for the Last Ice Area. To inform planning, WWF is working with communities and scientists to better understand this region.

© Martin Von Mirbach / WWF-Canon

WWF is working with management organizations in Nunavut to provide information and strategies for managing the region. We’re also supporting research into everything from creating a new map of polynyas (areas of year-round open water, surrounded by sea ice) to looking at how different ice patterns could affect the habitat of polar bears and ice whales.

International discussions about the Last Ice Area are also under way, involving people and agencies in Nunavut and Greenland. These provide a forum for sharing the knowledge we’ve acquired with other Arctic states, and explore the best ways to collaboratively manage this critical region.

© Students on Ice / WWF-Canon

Projects under way in the Last Ice Area

Studying wildlife sea ice habitat

Polar bears use sea ice as a place to hunt, and raise their young. Arctic whales rely on it for protection and food. As sea ice decreases and changes, how will that impact the species that depend on it? WWF is working with partners, including the University of Alberta and Nunavut Department of Environment, to understand how changes in sea ice habitats may affect the distribution of polar bears in the Arctic Archipelago. We’re also partnering with the University of Manitoba and Department of Fisheries and Oceans to learn more about how changing sea ice patterns might affect Arctic whale habitat and distribution.

© Vicki Sahanatien


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	© Vicki Sahanatien
© Vicki Sahanatien

The importance of sea ice

Sea ice holds the key to marine life in the Arctic. Learn about the different types of sea ice, and why sea ice matters – not just for the Arctic, but for the entire planet.

RACER: a new way to plan ahead

WWF is pulling together research on many different issues affecting the Arctic. As information is collected, it will be used to analyze the resilience of marine ecosystems in the Last Ice Area with a tool developed by WWF called the Rapid Assessment of Circum-Arctic Ecosystem Resilience or RACER. The results of the analysis will inform long-term conservation planning in the high arctic.

Learn how RACER helps us respond to Arctic issues fast (links to WWF International).

Mapping holes in the ice

We need to know where sea ice is absent, just as much as where it remains. That’s why WWF is supporting a project to map the locations of polynyas across the Canadian Arctic, updating dated information. Polynyas are areas of persistent open water dotted across the Arctic. They’re a critical habitat for marine mammals and seabirds, but polynya maps are out of date. The new map is being created using satellite imagery to both locate and learn more about these polynyas. The results will help us better understand the resilience of polynyas in the face of climate change and the potential impact on the species that depend on them.

Tracking Arctic wildlife movement

The Canadian Arctic is a vast and challenging region, and the species that call it home are among the least studied in the world. That’s changing thanks to modern technology, and Canadian scientists are at the forefront of tracking what were once inaccessible species like polar bears, Greenland sharks and narwhals. WWF works closely with a number of partners to support tracking projects that tell us more about where these animals go and when, how far they travel, and where their migration crosses paths with human development. The trackers also help us understand that habitats that they use and why they’re important.

Tagging animals isn’t our only option. WWF, the University of Minnesota, Nunavut Department of Environment and United States Geological Service are working together on other ways to monitor wildlife. These include testing high resolution satellite imagery to count polar bears. Testing this new approach could help provide data between the more intensive and expensive surveys of polar bear populations.

Keeping people and polar bears safe

Changes in sea ice habitat mean polar bears are interacting more with people on the land and in the communities, crossing paths with local communities, putting people and bears at risk. To address this growing concern, WWF, Parks Canada, the Nunavut Department of Environment, and BearWISE developed and launched a new standard course for polar bear guard training in November 2013. The course establishes standards of practice and training for polar bear guards in Nunavut. The training will help Nunavummiut deal with bear encounters – protecting people, property and polar bears.

Learn more about Arctic wildlife.

© Vicki Sahantien / WWF-Canada

Making the most of local expertise

WWF is working with the Inuit Circumpolar Council and communities to gather together Inuit traditional knowledge of the Last Ice Area. Bringing together scientific research and traditional, local knowledge is the path to a healthy future for the Last Ice Area. Using all available information is important when planning management for the region.

Protecting areas of high conservation value

WWF-Canada supports Inuit action for a Lancaster Sound protected area and have launched an interactive map to raise awareness of the importance of the region. Lancaster Sound is a unique Arctic ecosystem at the southern range of the Last Ice Area that possesses rich biodiversity, abundant marine life, and the second largest subpopulation of polar bears.