The midnight sun shines over the ice covered waters near Resolute bay at 1:30am as seen from the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent Saturday, July 12, 2008. The top of the world is turning upside down, according to the first overall assessment of Canada’s Arctic Ocean. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Frozen North gone forever: Study of Arctic Ocean shows top of the world changing

It’s 33 per cent less salty than in 2003 and about 30 per cent more acidic

The top of the world is turning upside down, says the first overall assessment of Canada’s Arctic Ocean.

The work of dozens of federal scientists and Inuit observers, it describes a vast ecosystem in unprecedented flux: from ocean currents to the habits and types of animals that swim in it.

The Arctic Ocean, where climate change has bitten deepest, may be changing faster than any other water body on Earth, said lead scientist Andrea Niemi of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“As the Arctic changes, the rest of the ecosystem is going to track with those changes,” she said. ”There isn’t going to be a delay.”

Changes are coming so fast scientists haven’t even had a chance to understand what’s there.

Sixty per cent of the species in the Canada Basin — like the worms found living in undersea mud volcanoes and living off expelled methane — are yet to be discovered, the report suggests

“Who knows what else is down there?” Niemi asked. “So much in the Arctic, we’re still at step one.”

The first assessment of fish species in the Beaufort Sea wasn’t done until 2014, she said.

Still, changes are hard to miss, right down to the makeup of the water.

It’s 33 per cent less salty than in 2003 and about 30 per cent more acidic — enough to dissolve the shells of some small molluscs. The Beaufort Gyre, a vast circular current that has alternated direction every decade, hasn’t switched in 19 years.

Nutrient-rich water from the Pacific Ocean isn’t getting mixed in as it used to, which affects the plankton blooms that anchor the Arctic food web. Sea ice is shrinking and thinning to the point where Inuit communities can’t get to formerly dependable hunting grounds.

Shorelines are on the move. Erosion has more than doubled in the last few decades.

The mix of species is changing.

Killer whales are becoming so frequent they’re altering the behaviour of other species such as narwhal and beluga that Inuit depend on. Pacific salmon, capelin and harp seals are moving up from the south.

“In some cases, the communities are putting out their nets and they’re just catching salmon,” Niemi said.

The effect of the salmon on other species is unknown.

Coastal fish species are being found much further offshore. Ringed seals can’t finish moulting before the ice breaks up and accompanying high ocean temperatures seem to be making them sluggish and more prone to polar bear predation.

READ MORE: ‘Not what it used to be:’ Warm Arctic autumn creates ice hazards for Inuit

Humans are making their presence felt, too. Increased Arctic shipping is making the ocean noisier and masking the sounds animals from seals to whales use to communicate.

The report’s conclusions are hamstrung by a lack of long-term data all over the North. Niemi said it’s hard to measure changes when you don’t know what was there in the first place.

Even when the changes can be measured, it’s difficult to know what’s causing them. Inuit communities want to know what’s going on in their home, she said.

“They’re interested in a holistic view of what’s going on. But we’re just handcuffed sometimes to provide the mechanisms behind the changes.”

One thing is certain: The old idea of the frozen North, with its eternal snows and unchanging rhythms, is gone forever.

“People see it as a faraway frozen land,” Niemi said. “But there is much happening.”

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

ArcticClimate changeNorth Pole

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Spring In The Garden: Natural disarray adds to the charm of the English cottage garden

Ellen Presley Special to The Record The cottage garden has had an… Continue reading

VIDEO: Community generosity helps Courtenay Elementary school replace stolen bikes

Community compassion, coupled with school connections, helped Courtenay Elementary restock its inventory… Continue reading

Comox Valley gives back

Comox Valley businesses, organizations and individuals helping improve the lives of others

Comox Valley playgrounds, outdoor fitness stations now open

School District 71 and Comox Valley local governments have reopened outdoor playgrounds… Continue reading

City of Courtenay outlines changes to property tax payment options due to COVID-19

Courtenay property tax notices were mailed on May 27-28, and will be… Continue reading

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Friendly Cove and Kyuquot will remain closed until further notice

Transition of other B.C. communities will be monitored before a decision to ease restrictions

Gold River organizes a shop local initiative to creatively boost economy

Local purchases can earn shoppers $200 gift certificates to be spent on businesses within Gold River

Young killer whale untangles itself from trap line off Nanaimo shore

DFO marine mammal rescue unit arrived as whale broke free from prawn trap line

Proposed seniors residence awaits nod from Courtenay council

Courtenay council is allowing a bit more time for public feedback before… Continue reading

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Most Read