The ripple effect of a warming Arctic
It all starts with the melting sea ice. Why? Because sea ice is the key to life in the Arctic, and as it disappears, everything is changing. Polar bears are moving to new hunting grounds, leading to increased conflict with northern communities. Ice-covered areas where narwhals and other Arctic cetaceans once sought shelter from killer whales are disappearing, leaving them vulnerable to predation. Ships are taking routes that were never available to them before. New oil and gas reserves are being discovered and exploited as they become more accessible. Commercial fishing is happening on an ever larger scale. And industrial development projects are leading to habitat disruption and increased pollution.
While the repercussions of climate change are clearly being experienced in a serious way in the Arctic, the melting polar ice actually has ramifications for the whole planet. As the Arctic warms, it has less ability to help cool the planet. In that way, Arctic melting affects us all.
Sea iceThis vital piece of the Arctic ecosystem is melting
Covering an ever-shifting 25 million square kilometres of the Earth, sea ice is the foundation of Arctic life. It is at the base of a complex ecosystem made up of a wide range of species and local communities.
As sea ice melts, the local communities and wildlife that depend on it must adapt. Indigenous people are travelling over thinner and more dangerous ice, while ice-dependent species such as polar bears, seals and whales are watching their habitats shrink, move and change. Some wildlife might be forced into new areas, many of which are already inhabited by other species or people, which in turn upset the balance of these ecosystems and communities.
Learn more about sea ice and the complex role it plays.
ShippingMore traffic brings more challenges
In the coming decades ship traffic is expected to intensify in the Arctic, as the continuing shrinkage of Arctic summer sea ice opens new shipping routes, and demand grows for the exploitation of Arctic resources like energy and mining products.
Learn about WWF’s work to promote the adoption of better shipping practices in the Arctic.
Oil and gasThe final frontier for petroleum development
The Arctic holds the world's largest remaining untapped gas reserves and some of its largest undeveloped oil reserves. A significant proportion of these reserves lie offshore, in the Arctic's shallow and biologically productive shelf seas.
Oil spills, whether from blowouts, pipeline leaks or shipping accidents, pose a tremendous risk to Arctic and marine ecosystems, and the increased underwater noise caused by offshore drilling can interfere with the sounds used by marine mammals for communication.
What would an oil spill in the Beaufort Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean, look like? Find out at arcticspills.wwf.ca.
Learn more about WWF’s work to encourage responsible oil and gas development.
What WWF is doing
What you can do
- Weather conditions make passage hazardous, and extreme cold can damage some equipment
- Charts are not always current or reliable
- Ice can place a heavy burden on a ship’s hull and propulsion system
- Efficient, cost-effective methods to clean an oil spill in ice-filled waters are lacking
- Oil toxins can be poisonous if ingested or absorbed
- Oil contamination reduces the ability of ice-adapted species to stay warm, and could lead to hypothermia and death
- An oil spill in arctic waters could also devastate the indigenous people who depend on the ocean for subsistence
Arctic Blog Feed
Narwhal Camp: Polar bears, bowhead whales and giant gulls
WWF biologists Tom Arnbom and Melanie Lancaster share their observations from Narwhal Camp in Tallurutiup Imanga in Canada’s Arctic, where they and other scientists are working to uncover the secrets of the narwhal, unicorn of the sea. (You can read about their first week in camp here.) ...
Welcome to Narwhal Camp
WWF biologists at Narwhal Camp in Canada’s Arctic share observations from the field where, along with Department of Fisheries and Oceans researchers and others, they are gathering data about the mysterious tusked whales .
Global polar bear conservation results are in. Here’s how Canada’s stacks up
WWF’s global Polar Bear Scorecard identifies conservation gaps. Canada must move quickly to identify critical habitat and set best practices for oil-spill response.
Polar bears need help now. Here’s why
There’s good reason to be worried about the future of polar bears. They need ice and snow to feed and breed, and as climate change warms the Arctic twice as fast as the global average, their habitat is disappearing. At some point, there risks being so little ice that populations ...