Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Arctic sea-ice loss has widespread effects on wildlife

Date:
August 1, 2013
Source:
Penn State
Summary:
How the Arctic wildlife and humans will be affected by the continued melting of Arctic sea ice is explored in a review article in the journal Science, by an international team of scientists. The article examines relationships among algae, plankton, whales, and terrestrial animals such as caribou, arctic foxes, and walrus; as well as the effects of human exploration of previously inaccessible parts of the region.

Caribou calf in West Greenland.
Credit: Jeff Kerby, Eric Post lab, Penn State University

With sea ice at its lowest point in 1,500 years, how might ecological communities in the Arctic be affected by its continued accelerating melting over the next decades? Penn State University Professor of Biology Eric Post and an international team of scientists tackle this question by examining relationships among algae, plankton, whales, and terrestrial animals such as caribou, arctic foxes and walrus; as well as the effects of human exploration of previously inaccessible parts of the region.

Related Articles


"Arctic sea ice has declined by more than 86,000 square kilometers -- a space slightly larger than the state of South Carolina -- per year," Post said. "That's an area of critical habitat for many species and the rate of loss is increasing." Post added that an acceleration of this rate likely will be due, in part, to the loss the white surface provided by ice that reflects sunlight -- thereby causing a cooling effect. The highly reflective ice, Post added, will be replaced by a much-less-reflective, darker surface of open water -- and the effect will be accelerated warming and accelerated melting.

A domino effect of sea-ice melting on terrestrial animals, Post explained, could happen through a disruption in the food chain. Sea-ice algae and sub-ice plankton, which together account for 57 percent of the total annual biological production in the Arctic Ocean, already are being immediately affected by sea-ice melting because ice loss triggers a significant change in the blooming times of these organisms. Likewise, land adjacent to areas of sea-ice loss will experience significant surface warming inland from the coastline, affecting soil conditions and plant growth. Post and his colleagues hypothesize that, while invertebrate ocean-dwelling animals -- such as zooplankton that feed on algae and phytoplankton in the seas -- already are being affected, larger terrestrial animals such as caribou could find their land-dwelling food sources disrupted, as well, due to temperature changes affecting plant communities inland.

"A change in population mixing could be another, indirect effect of sea-ice melting," Post said. He explained that populations of wolves and arctic foxes that currently are isolated only during the summer could become even more isolated. A longer period of the year without ice, which promotes travel between populations, could lead to a decline in crossbreeding.

However, for other species, the effect of sea-ice loss could be just the opposite: "We know that, for some species, sea ice acts as a barrier to intermixing," Post explained. "So for these species, ice loss and a lengthening of the ice-free season likely will increase population mixing, reducing genetic differentiation." Post explained that, for example, polar and grizzly bears already have been observed to have hybridized because polar bears now are spending more time on land, where they have contact with grizzlies.

While such mixing of populations is not necessarily cause for concern, Post explained, it could lead to drastic changes in disease dynamics. For example, a population that currently is a host to a certain pathogen could carry that pathogen to another, previously unexposed population. "In addition, a decrease in sea ice in arctic Canada likely will increase contact between eastern and western arctic species, promoting mixing of pathogen communities that previously were isolated," Post said. "For example, phocine distemper virus (PDV) currently affects eastern Arctic seals. But if these seals begin to mix with western arctic seals, the virus may reach other, naive populations."

Post added that greater accessibility of previously remote parts of the Arctic to human exploration could be yet another unexpected consequence of sea-ice loss. "Retreating sea ice, longer ice-free seasons, and loss of sea ice are expected to promote development of shipping lanes and increased shipping traffic in areas that formerly were rather inaccessible," Post said. "This increased marine access likely will accelerate the pace of mineral and petroleum exploration in the Arctic, which in turn could affect both terrestrial and marine animals; for example, bowhead whales and Pacific walrus."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. The original article was written by Katrina Voss. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. E. Post, U. S. Bhatt, C. M. Bitz, J. F. Brodie, T. L. Fulton, M. Hebblewhite, J. Kerby, S. J. Kutz, I. Stirling, D. A. Walker. Ecological Consequences of Sea-Ice Decline. Science, 2013; 341 (6145): 519 DOI: 10.1126/science.1235225

Cite This Page:

Penn State. "Arctic sea-ice loss has widespread effects on wildlife." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 August 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130801142317.htm>.
Penn State. (2013, August 1). Arctic sea-ice loss has widespread effects on wildlife. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130801142317.htm
Penn State. "Arctic sea-ice loss has widespread effects on wildlife." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130801142317.htm (accessed November 24, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, November 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

3D Map of Antarctic Sea Ice to Shed Light on Climate Change

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A multinational group of scientists have released the first ever detailed, high-resolution 3-D maps of Antarctic sea ice. Using an underwater robot equipped with sonar, the researchers mapped the underside of a massive area of sea ice to gauge the impact of climate change. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Car Park Solution for Flexible Green Energy

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) A British solar power start-up says that by covering millions of existing car park spaces around the UK with flexible solar panels, the country's power problems could be solved. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Deadly Japanese Pufferfish Discovered in Crimean Waters

Deadly Japanese Pufferfish Discovered in Crimean Waters

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 24, 2014) The capture of deadly Japanese pufferfish in the waters of Crimea is causing concern for fishermen and scientists alike. Sharon Reich reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Terrifying Black Seadevil Fish Captured on First-of-Its Kind Video

Terrifying Black Seadevil Fish Captured on First-of-Its Kind Video

Buzz60 (Nov. 24, 2014) An aquarium captures a first-of-its kind video of a notoriously camera-shy fish that’s also not so camera-friendly. Jen Markham explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins