Melting Ice: Impacts on Animals and People (Part 4)

How does melting sea ice impact animals, their habitats, and sea level rise?

How sea ice melt affects animals and habitats?

Animals of the ice need sea ice to survive. Across the polar food web, sea ice loss and warming seas mean massive changes for them. Some are finding their food sources disappearing, some are losing habitat, and almost all are feeling disturbances to the patterns of their lives.

The loss of sea ice is already affecting polar bears. Their main prey, ringed seals, live under it, and bears hunt from the ice above. As sea ice shrinks, bears are having to swim further and further to get to their food source. The harder they have to work, the fewer will survive.

How sea ice affects sea level rise?

Sea ice loss will also cause ripple effects that people will feel across the planet.

Rising sea levels are a concern for all coastal communities. The loss of sea ice itself does not directly cause sea levels to rise, but sea ice has another effect on the climate which can. Because it’s highly reflective, sea ice sends a large amount of the sun’s heat back out into the atmosphere. With sea ice gone, more of that heat stays to warm the ocean and the land. And land ice melt does raise sea levels. If Greenland’s ice sheet, the largest in the Arctic, were to melt, it could raise global sea levels by more than 20 feet.

The addition of huge amounts of cold, fresh water will also affect the ocean’s currents and even atmospheric patterns like the Jet Stream. This could lead to more extreme weather events all around the world.

Sea ice is important for animals and people. The poles and their ice are a part of the interconnected climate system of our planet. Changes there affect us, here. But lIke so many other parts of the global climate, what happens to sea ice is affected by what we do. If we make changes to our lifestyle, we can still help preserve polar ice and the animals that call it home.

NOAA Climate Program Office
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
The Hidden Ocean, Arctic 2005 Exploration
National Snow and Ice Data Center
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
NASA’s Operation Ice Bridge
Benjamin Jones - USGS
Footage Search - Daniel Zatz, Ernie Kovacs