Arctic Sea Ice is Among World's Most Threatened Ecosystems

Bearded Seal, Norway

Bearded Seal ©Geeske Joel/WWF-US

According to a new report from the Endangered Species Coalition (“It’s Getting Hot Out There”), the top ten ecosystems most threatened by climate change include Arctic sea ice with its many imperiled species.  To address the threat, the report says we must sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and "increase habitat and species resilience" by minimizing other major stresses to the ecosystem.  The region is home to imperiled species such as the polar bear, many types of seals (ringed, bearded, spotted, ribbon, harp, and hooded seals), Pacific walruses and the spectacled eider.

The floating Arctic sea ice is crucial to the region’s food web, maintaining cold temperatures and the global climate. The report states,

“[Sea ice] is the platform where many species give birth, raise young, hunt, hide from predators and move long distances. Sea ice sustains a remote web of life: it supports marine algae at the base of the food web, and its spring melt drives phytoplankton blooms that enrich the marine ecosystem. The Bering Sea’s sea-ice bloom sustains a rich benthic community, providing food for walruses, bearded seals, and seaducks.”

Source: National Snow & Ice Data Center

According to WWF’s Arctic Climate Feedbacks report, over the last 50 years, the Arctic has warmed at a rate twice the global average. The National Snow and Ice Data Center lists the 2010 sea ice minimum as the 3rd lowest on record—the 1st and 2nd lowest were 2007 and 2008 respectively.

The ESC report states that the Arctic “is one of the world’s most endangered habitats due to climate change. Climate scientists have projected that summer sea ice will disappear in the 2030s. Winter sea ice will also continue to decline.”

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The report highlights 9 other critical ecosystems for endangered species that are currently threatened from climate change, such as the California Sierra Nevada Mountains, Hawaiian Islands, Yellowstone National Park area and the Everglades (see how National Parks and U.S. regions are going to be impacted by climate change). 

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