Ice that survived Arctic summer hits low, with implications for traditional harvesting and shipping

Ice that survived Arctic summer hits low, with implications for traditional harvesting and shipping

A full-time harvester in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T, stated ice needs to be forming round his dwelling on Victoria Island this time of yr — however as an alternative, temperatures have been hovering round zero and it’s been raining. 

David Kuptana, a 64-year-old elder, stated ice is forming later within the season and disappearing earlier — which means it doesn’t get as thick within the winter. He’s fearful about what which means for conventional harvesting, and in regards to the long-term penalties the altering local weather could have on caribou. 

The quantity of sea ice that persists all through the summer time additionally impacts how thick ice will develop within the Arctic within the winter. Ice that builds on an current layer of ice can develop thicker than ice that grows seasonally from scratch.

Summer time sea ice within the Arctic naturally shrinks in the summertime. In line with the Nationwide Snow and Ice Information Centre (NSIDC), Arctic summer time sea ice dwindled to 4.23 million sq. kilometres on Sept. 19 — the sixth lowest extent on a 45-year report. 

That’s two million sq. kilometres smaller than common — a distinction that’s about 3 times the scale of Alberta. 

A NASA visualization of how small Arctic sea ice shrank to on Sept. 19, 2023. The yellow line represents the minimal’s 30-year common, calculated utilizing knowledge from 1931 to 2010. (NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio)

Mark Serreze, the director of the NSIDC in Boulder, Colorado, stated this yr’s minimal is a part of a pattern of shrinking Arctic ice that the centre has been observing for many years. By the mid 2040s, he stated, one would possibly look out throughout the Arctic in mid-September and see an all-blue ocean. 

‘Clean crusing’ on Northwest Passage route

Dwindling summer time sea ice can also be altering how ships can journey by the Arctic.

The Canadian Ice Service posted on X that six per cent of the northern route by the Northwest Passage was coated in ice in late August. It’s the second-lowest ice protection on report since 1968, after it dwindled to 4 per cent protection in 2011, the group stated. 

Serreze stated on the southern route, which has slim channels and shallow water that make it much less fascinating for delivery, it might have been “clean crusing this yr.” On Tuesday, he stated, it was nonetheless open with little or no ice. 

Caribou drowning throughout migration

Arctic animals depend on sure ice options as habitats and sources of meals. 

Seals, for instance, search for tough ice and strain ridges the place they may give start to their younger, stated Kuptana. Polar bears, in flip, hunt in these areas. 

Kuptana is fearful how these ice options are going to alter, and he fears for caribou that want the ice to develop thick in an effort to safely migrate between Victoria Island and the mainland. 

The Dolphin and Union caribou make that migration twice a yr. The caribou had been not too long ago assessed as endangered — which means extinction is imminent until threats to the species could be mitigated. It’s now as much as wildlife administration authorities within the N.W.T. whether or not to uplist the caribou. They’re at present categorized as being of “particular concern” on the territory’s species in danger checklist.

One of many essential elements within the evaluation, in accordance with the 2023 species standing report, is local weather change. Harmful ice crossings and elevated ship site visitors are growing the variety of caribou that drown, whereas ice overlaying the snow makes it laborious for them to entry meals. 

“It’s scary,” stated Kuptana. “If the ice doesn’t freeze anymore and the ocean doesn’t freeze anymore, the caribou and the animals that used emigrate from the mainland to our island … they’re in all probability not going emigrate anymore.” 

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