The stretch of Arctic ice between Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago is popularly known as ‘the Last Ice Area’ by scientists. It is the oldest and thickest stretch of ice in the Arctic region, covering hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of ocean.
Just like all sea ice, it grows and shrinks in seasons, but this ice has survived even the warmest summers on record. It was expected to endure hot temperatures longer than anywhere else in the Arctic and survive even when the entire Arctic goes ‘ice-free’. This would have been the perfect place for refuge for animals like polar bears and walruses in the coming decades.
But that might not be possible.
“The Last Ice Area is losing ice mass at twice the rate of the entire Arctic,” said Professor Kent Moore from the University of Toronto.
The research was based on the ice arches that connect the Last Ice Area to the mainland and hold it in place. These arches form seasonally as the weather cools and create giant structures that look like ‘bridge supports turned on their sides’, blocking movement of ice from north to south. They then eventually melt in the summers.
The Nares Strait ice arches that effectively hold the Last Ice Area in place are becoming less stable. These arches are forming later and melting earlier than previously recorded, and the ice is thinner. The risk is not just ice melting in place, but also breaking up and drifting southwards into warmer regions and speeding up the melting process.
What would happen if the Last Ice Area is lost?
The total melting of this ice would not only affect polar animals, it would impact almost everyone. Underneath the ice lies ice algae who supply carbon, oxygen and other nutrients that support an entire ecosystem. The fall of an entire ecosystem can also drastically affect other ecosystems. It will also contribute to rising sea levels.
It is quite ironic how the place once called as ‘Tuvaijuittuq’ - the place where ice never melts, is now melting.
This is another warning of the damage caused by increasing temperatures. We really need to cool down the planet and hope for the arches to form again.