The ongoing loss of sea-ice cover is wreaking havoc on ecosystems across the Arctic, and may spell the end of more species than previously thought.
Arctic sea-ice cover shrank last year to the second lowest summer level ever recorded, following an unprecedented winter low, threatening species that rely directly on sea ice, like ivory gulls.
But less obvious species may also be in trouble. Most seabirds and large zooplankton species were less abundant – by 90 per cent on average for birds – when sea ice melted early in spring, suggesting that these species will decline in a warmer climate (Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0276), and result in a very different Bering Sea ecosystem, a system which currently supports one of the largest remaining palatable fisheries in the world.
It’s not just sea life that’s at risk. To Arctic animals, the disappearance of ice could represent a new and serious impediment, particularly to moving among islands. One species, the Peary caribou, a culturally important animal for indigenous people, who use it for food and clothing, travels over the ice between a score of islands to find food and shelter, to mate and to raise their young. Sea ice allows the caribou to interact and allows for genetic exchange, which influences their productivity and diversity. The connectivity among islands has declined, since the the loss of ice means the animals can’t get from island to island, disrupting caribou movement and gene flow. Over time, numerous animals may go extinct. (Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0235).
A lack of ice may also hamper the dispersal of plants, dooming them to extinction. “With the current rapid warming, plants need to move to colder places to thrive and colonise new areas when sea ice is prevalent (Biology Letters, DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0264).
The New Scientist reports that the anticipated negative changes are off the charts, although the complexity of the ecosystem and lack of historical precedent means it is difficult to make accurate predictions about future changes. (based on an article by Julianna Photopoulos, New Scientist).
When the flora and fauna are gone, they are gone, and the planet will be the worse off for it. Meanwhile, the Neros of the world fiddle while the proverbial Rome burns, relying on the dubious data of only 5% of the Earths climatologists. As the nations of the world increasingly espouse right-wing, nationalist, illiberal and money-grubbing regimes the situation is going to get worse, not better. Nothing must stand in the way of money-making, it appears! The least we can do, as supporters of Epicurean thought, is to support those trying to avoid climate catastrophe, helpless though we seem.