Six ways loss of Arctic ice impacts everyone

Polar ice caps are melting as global warming causes climate change. We lose Arctic sea ice at a rate of almost 13% per decade, and over the past 30 years, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95%.

If emissions continue to rise unchecked, the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer by 2040. But what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic. Sea ice loss has far-reaching effects around the world.

The Impacts See how melting sea ice is already affecting us

1. Temperatures

The Arctic and Antarctic are the world’s refrigerator. Since they are covered in white snow and ice that reflect heat back into space, they balance out other parts of the world that absorb heat. Less ice means less reflected heat, meaning more intense heatwaves worldwide. But it also means more extreme winters: as the polar jet stream—a high-pressure wind that circles the Arctic region—is destabilized by warmer air, it can dip south, bringing bitter cold with it.  

2. Coastal communities

Global average sea level has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900 and it’s getting worse. Rising seas endanger coastal cities and small island nations by exacerbating coastal flooding and storm surge, making dangerous weather events even more so. Glacial melt of the Greenland ice sheet is a major predictor of future sea level rise; if it melts entirely, global sea levels could rise 20 feet.

We need your help

Stand up, raise your voice, and demand urgent, meaningful, and concrete climate action to keep global temperature rise to 1.5C and help communities and wildlife adapt. There’s still time to avoid many of the worst impacts of sea ice loss and climate change if we act now and we act together.

Take Actionh

3. Food

Polar vortexes, increased heat waves, and unpredictability of weather caused by ice loss are already causing significant damage to crops on which global food systems depend. This instability will continue to mean higher prices for you and growing crises for the world’s most vulnerable.

4. Shipping

As ice melts, new shipping routes open up in the Arctic. These routes will be tempting time-savers, but incredibly dangerous. Imagine more shipwrecks or oil spills like the Exxon-Valdez in areas that are inaccessible to rescue or clean-up crews.

5. Wildlife

When there’s less sea ice, animals that depend on it for survival must adapt or perish. Loss of ice and melting permafrost spells trouble for polar bears, walruses, arctic foxes, snowy owls, reindeer, and many other species. As they are affected, so too are the other species that depend on them, in addition to people. Wildlife and people are coming into more frequent contact – and often conflict – as wildlife encroach on Arctic communities, looking for refuge as their sea ice habitat disappears.  

6. Permafrost

Arctic ice and permafrost—ground that is permanently frozen—store large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. When it thaws, that methane is released, increasing the rate of warming. This, in turn, causes more ice and permafrost to thaw or melt, releasing more methane, causing more melting. As we lose more ice more quickly and see more rapid permafrost melt, we will start seeing the worst climate change predictions come true.

But something can be done about climate change.

Limiting the increase in global temperature is our best chance of securing a safer future for all, preventing even more damaging consequences than we’ve already seen. By keeping the rise to 1.5 C (2.7 F) we can prevent the worst effects of climate change. But helping communities and wildlife adapt to changes already underway in the meantime is essential.

To deliver on these important goals, WWF works with local communities, governments and others around the world to significantly and quickly reduce emissions and to help people and nature prepare for the many impacts of a changing climate.  For example, WWF is testing new on-the-ground projects to help at-risk species and local communities adapt.

Author: Lorin Hancock