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

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

A trailer with fire damage is taped off by the Port Alberni Fire Department at the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Fire knocked down at Wintergreen Apartments trailer

City is concerned about zoning, building code and fire code infractions surrounding the trailers

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

Alberni Valley Bulldogs forward Lukas Jirousek pokes the puck away from Grizzlies forward Henri Schreifels during a game at the Alberni Valley Multiplex on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
BCHL: Career night for Castagna can’t lift Alberni Valley Bulldogs past Victoria

Back-and-forth affair between Bulldogs and Grizzlies ends 7-5 for visiting team

Logging Camp Nine on Great Central Lake overlooks a large forest fire across the lake in this historical photo from May 1943. Camp Nine was bustling, with residences for logging camp staff, a rail line and rail cars visible. This is one of 24,000 photos contained in the Alberni Valley Museum’s digital archives, available for public viewing at https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com. (PHOTO PN12220 COURTESY ALBERNI VALLEY MUSEUM)
LOOK BACK: Great Central Lake’s sawmill

Take a peek at Alberni Valley history with the Alberni Vally Museum

Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ goalie Luke Pearson stopped all 22 shots the Cowichan Capitals sent his way to collect a 5–0 shutout in B.C. Hockey League action, Saturday, April 10, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
BCHL: Pearson earns shutout in Bulldogs’ win over Cowichan Capitals

Alberni Valley will face Victoria Grizzlies Sunday, April 11 at 3 p.m.

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
Vancouver Island team helps make $368 million three-tonne cocaine seizure

12 members from 19 Wing Comox involved in Op Caribbe

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read