Arctic Climate Facts | WWF

Climate change and the Arctic

2016 was the hottest year ever recorded globally.


decrease in sea ice extent from the 1981-2010 average in September 20151.


months of record-breaking high global temperatures in a row as of August 20162

34,000 km2

of sea ice lost per year since 1979 on average3


maximum spring extent for sea ice in the satellite record4

What does this mean for the Arctic?

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

The average temperature of the Arctic has increased 2.3°C since the 1970s1. By mid-century, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free in summer2.

Shrinking sea ice is a big problem for Arctic wildlife.

Ice dependent species such as narwhals, polar bears, and some seal species are at increasing risk with shrinking sea ice cover. By 2100, polar bears could face starvation and reproductive failure even in far northern Canada1.

Opportunistic species move north, posing a risk to existing Arctic species and systems

On the tundra, rising temperatures have brought a new competitor - the Arctic fox’s much larger cousin, the red fox. Not only does the newcomer colonise their dens, it can also kill the smaller Arctic foxes.

In the ocean, both scientists and Inuit say killer whales appear to be increasing in numbers, and in the length of time they stay in the Arctic1. Killer whales prey on other whales such as narwhals and bowhead whales2.

Loss of sea ice is forcing walruses into danger.

Around 35,000 walruses came ashore on the Alaska coast in September 2014. It’s the largest ‘haul out’ ever recorded. US government agencies estimated that 60 young walruses were crushed in the crowd1.

Changes in vegetation and ice cover make it harder for caribou/reindeer and muskoxen to find food.

More woody plants, more precipitation, and warmer temperatures compromise the survival of grazing animals such as reindeer and muskoxen.

A paper on the range of one significant caribou herd in Canada found an increase in forest fires has reduced the available food for caribou in their winter range. Warmer winter temperatures have also increased the layers of ice in snow, making food more difficult to dig up in winter1.

Fish are moving as seas warm.

Fish stocks in the Barents Sea are moving north at up to 160 kilometres per decade as a result of climate change1. The fish are sensitive to changes in water temperature.

This poses a risk for commercial and subsistence fisheries that may see fish resources move away from where they can harvest them. The moving fish also change the ecosystems into which they move.

Oil drilling is moving north despite no proven effective method to clean up oil spills in ice covered waters.

In 2014, the first commercial development of offshore oil (Prirazlomnoye) was pumped from Russian Arctic waters. The operating company, Gazprom, says the project holds 70 million tons of oil, with an annual production level of some 5.5 million tons1.

The Italian firm ENI started production in March 2016 at the Goliat field in the Norwegian Arctic. According to the company, the project will produce 100,000 barrels of oil per day2.

Increased shipping in the Arctic raises the risk of spills, pollution, and injuries to marine mammals.

With increased shipping comes spill risk (both of ships’ fuel and cargo), “black carbon” emissions that help to speed the rate of Arctic melting, ship noise that may also affect whales, and icebreaking that can disrupt ice crossing routes for people and animals.

In 2013, a large bulk carrier transited the Northwest Passage for the first time1.

Arctic coasts face slumping permafrost, increased waves, and rising sea levels.

The coastline facing Russia’s Laptev Sea is eroding at rates of 2 to 6 metres a year, double the historical rate, while erosion rates for parts of Alaska’s coastline also doubled recently. Global sea level is projected to rise by up to 1.6 meters by 2100, largely due to Arctic sea ice loss1.