2016 is almost certain to be the hottest year ever recorded, with new records broken monthly.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.