/ ©: WWF-Canon / Steve Morello

Arctic climate change

Observations, whether from satellites, sensors, or from people who live in the Arctic tell the same story – the Arctic climate is changing.

How is the Arctic affected by climate change?

Climate change is faster and more severe in the Arctic than in most of the rest of the world. The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average. 

Summer sea ice is disappearing

The sea ice that is a critical component of Arctic marine ecosystems is projected to disappear in the summer within a generation.
  • Arctic sea ice has decreased 14% since the 1970s.
  • In 2012, Arctic sea ice extent hit the lowest level ever recorded, breaking the previous record set in 2007.
  • By 2040, summer sea ice could be limited to the northern coast of Greenland and Canada.  This is the Last Ice Area.
Watch: the record-breaking sea ice melt of 2012:


The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world

Why? Shiny ice and snow reflect a high proportion of the sun's energy into space. As the Arctic loses snow and ice, bare rock and water absorb more and more of the sun’s energy, making it ever warmer. This is called the albedo effect.


A small temperature shift can have enormous implications

Even an increase of 2°C could be too much. A slight shift in temperature, bringing averages above the freezing point, will completely alter the character of the region.
  • As snow and ice melt, the ability of the Arctic to reflect heat back to space is reduced, accelerating the overall rate of global warming.
  • Some Arctic fisheries will likely disappear.
  • We are likely to see more forest fires and storm damage to coastal communities in the Arctic.
  • Glaciers, sea ice and tundra will melt, contributing to global sea level rises.
  • A warmer Arctic could halt the Gulf Stream, which brings warmer water and weather to north-western Europe.
Read the WWF report on the effects of climate change: Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications

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Arctic change affects everyone

Climate change in the Arctic is not just a local problem -- it's a global problem.

The feedbacks from the Arctic are increasing global sea levels, they are predicted to change global climate and precipitation patterns, and the effects of climate change on Arctic species are likely to be felt globally.

What WWF is doing

  • Providing up-to-date and reliable information on the effects of climate change in the Arctic, in order to stimulate policies and actions that combat climate change
  • Supporting field-based projects in the Arctic where information on climate change is generated or collected.
  • Assisting in the development and implementation of adaptation strategies for species, ecosystems, and cultures in coping with a changing climate in the Arctic.
Learn more about the WWF Global Arctic Programme

The Last Ice Area?

 / ©: WWF-Canada
As the climate warms, Arctic sea ice is disappearing. Almost every summer, the amount of remaining ice gets smaller. That summer ice is vitally important to a whole range of animals from tiny shrimp to vast bowhead whales, and to local people.

One stretch of ice is projected to remain when all other large areas of summer ice are gone.

This is the Last Ice Area.
  • Climate Witness banner / ©: Tonje Folkestad

By the numbers

  • Arctic climate change

    • 1 metre  Expected rise in sea level by 2100, due to melting ice
    • 5°C  Air temperature increase over the last 100 years.
    • 14%  Decrease in Arctic sea ice extent since the 1970s.
    • 2040 Summer sea ice likely limited to the northern coasts of Canada and Greenland
    • 2080  Arctic summer sea ice is expected to disappear completely.
    • 2100  Arctic temperatures as high as 7° C above pre-industrial levels*

    * Based on current international pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Copenhagen Accord.

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