Ice on the edge of survival: Warming is changing the Arctic

The Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the Earth and it’s on the knife edge of survival. Scientists and activists say the ongoing negotiations at the U.N. climate conference may determine the fate of the northern polar region perhaps more than any other part of the planet.

In a couple decades or less, the Arctic will see summers with no sea ice. Some glaciers are doomed.

The massive ice sheet in Greenland is melting. Permafrost is thawing. These developments loom large during the negotiations in Glasgow, which is the farthest north the annual negotiations have taken place.

Scientists believe Arctic warming is already contributing to weather calamities elsewhere around the world.

Scientists and advocates say the threatened animals are “the canary in the cryosphere.” Polar bears need sea ice to hunt. So, shrinking sea ice means shrinking polar bears — literally. Scientists say polar bears in some places are smaller than they used to be.

Chart. Using a body condition index (BCI) that considered mass and length, researchers found that polar bears in the southern Hudson Bay region experienced declining body conditions due to sea ice loss. This visualization is current as of November 5, 2021 and will not update.

Source: Obbard et al. 2016. Trends in body condition in polar bears (Ursus maritimus) from the Southern Hudson Bay subpopulation in relation to changes in sea ice. Arctic Science.