- 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.
Arctic climate change
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 disappearingThe 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.
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.
The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world
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.
A small temperature shift can have enormous implications
- 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.
Acidic oceans threaten Arctic lifeDue to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the world's oceans are 30% more acidic now than before the industrial revolution. Cold oceans, like those in the Arctic, are acidifying twice as fast as average. Acidic water interferes with the development of coral reefs and the shells of oysters, crabs, snails and plankton, just to name a few.
- Learn more: Download The Circle: Arctic ocean acidification (PDF)
By the numbers
1 metreExpected rise in sea level by 2100, due to melting ice
5°CAir temperature increase over the last 100 years.
14%Decrease in Arctic sea ice extent since the 1970s.
2040Summer sea ice likely limited to the northern coasts of Canada and Greenland
2080Arctic summer sea ice is expected to disappear completely.
2100Arctic temperatures as high as 7° C above pre-industrial levels*
Based on current international pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Copenhagen Accord.
Why it matters
Arctic change affects everyoneClimate 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
A future for the Last Ice AreaAs 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.
We're working with Inuit organizations, communities, and governments in Greenland and Canada to plan for the future of this region.
What you can do
Learn what the WWF office in your country is doing about climate change and how you can get involved:
- Canada (English, also available in French)
- Denmark (Danish)
- Finland (Finnish)
- Netherlands (Dutch)
- Norway (Norwegian)
- Russia (Russian)
- Sweden (Swedish)
- United Kingdom (English)
- United States (English)