Arctic Wildlife’s Last Habitat Will Be Ice Strip
Within a few decades such vistas are unlikely to exist, at least not here, during summer. As the planet heats up, the summer sea ice and all the superbly adapted life it supports—the bears, the seals, the walruses, the whales, the Arctic cod, the crustaceans, the ice algae—may well vanish around Baffin. As we fly over the vast frozen expanse, it almost strains belief to think that we’re witnessing—and with the rest of humanity, helping to cause—its demise. In the 1980s satellite data showed that Arctic sea ice extended on average across nearly three million square miles at the end of summer. Since then more than a million square miles has been lost—an area roughly the size of Alaska, Texas, and California combined.
Climate models suggest that by the 2050s, less than 200,000 square miles of perennial sea ice will remain. The good news, such as it is: What’s left will collect in a compact region, not here but farther north, above Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere Island. That shrunken redoubt will be the last stand for many of the Arctic’s wild things.
“The animals that depend on the edge of the sea ice for a living will be congregating there in the summer,” says marine ecologist Enric Sala, leader of the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project. “It will be like one of those watering holes in Africa where everybody shows up.”