The Global Impacts of Arctic Sea Ice Loss


Some of the most important climate news this winter has been around the alarming lack of sea ice in the Arctic, which has been in decline due to the steady rise in Earth’s average air and ocean temperatures. While suffering polar bears are a poignant symbol of climate change, the effects of disappearing ice extend far beyond the Arctic circle and its inhabitants.

Locally, there’s a high probability that ice-dependent species like polar bears and reindeer will experience a population decline as their food options disappear. Humans in the Arctic have become more vulnerable to coastal erosion and face having to relocate their communities away from coastlines. Thawing permafrost has led to more wildfires and affected infrastructure, while rising ocean temperatures and acidification have already altered marine fisheries.

NASA Arctic Sea Ice Conceptual Animation

Arctic communities are experiencing some of the most dramatic effects of receding sea ice, but the thawing contributes to complex global patterns that affect the whole world’s population. Scientists believe the ice sheets moderate weather by reflecting heat away from the Earth, and their disappearance will contribute to more extreme weather in the coming decades.

Melting Arctic sea ice will also contribute to sea level rise, both as it melts into the oceans and as the warming water expands. As a result, communities and governments are beginning to plan for these changes, and exploring what can be done to adapt to these new conditions.

What You Can Do

Arctic sea ice is part of a complex global system, and as a result it affects communities at all latitudes.  There is a lot that can be done around the world to slow the loss of Arctic sea ice, largely in the form of reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. You can take steps in your everyday life to reduce your own carbon footprint, and contribute to advocacy groups that push for smarter environmental policies.

You can also take a more active role in preserving the Arctic from thousands of miles away by conserving other natural resources that have global impacts. For example, new research has revealed coastal wetlands, like mangroves and marshes, play important roles in holding back climate change. They are important carbon sinks, and preserving these fragile ecosystems them can hold back the greenhouse gas buildup that contributes to sea ice loss.

SCA provides dozens of opportunities to contribute to conservation work near and far. You have the power to preserve natural resources, and as a result, limit Arctic sea ice loss and lessen the impacts of climate change.

Weekly Animation of Arctic Sea Ice Age (1984 – 2016)

Related Resources

About the Author: Andrew Carpenter is an American University graduate who studied international relations, focusing on human rights and environmental justice. His starry-eyed tendencies have led him to bike across Europe and the U.S., last year writing about transportation issues that affect communities across the country from a cyclist’s perspective. Andrew is a freelance writer who looks to promote innovative, sustainable ideas that inspire discovery and bring communities together.

Student Conservation Association