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The Last Ice Area

As climate change reduces the size and duration of summer Arctic sea ice, scientific projections show it will last the longest above Canada and Greenland. This is the Last Ice Area.

The latest scientific projections agree that summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean will be largely gone within a generation. This will undercut a whole ecosystem dependent on sea ice.

The exception is a region in the high Arctic of Canada and Greenland projected to be the last stronghold of summer sea ice as the Earth continues to warm due to climate change. In the coming years, it will be essential as an enduring home for ice-dependent life.

This video shows how the Arctic's oldest ice is moving and changing over time. Much of the oldest ice has already disappeared, and that which remains is found along the northern shores of Canada and Greenland - the Last Ice Area.

Where is the Last Ice Area?

© WWF

This map shows the extent of summer sea ice projected for 2040 and beyond, as viewed from the north pole.

The prediction is for a fringe of ice to remain in Northeast Canada and Northern Greenland when all other large areas of summer ice are gone.

Together, we have the power to safeguard this globally significant region that will be a last refuge for ice-dependent species as the world warms.

How much of the Last Ice Area is protected?

© WWF
© WWF

Why the Last Ice Area matters

Even with effective action on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, Arctic sea ice will shrink: both the in area it covers in the summertime, and how long it lasts in the wintertime. As the sea ice disappears, the Last Ice Area will continue to provide a suitable home for ice-associated life and the people who depend upon these living resources.

Sea ice is a highway for Inuit, who use it to travel and hunt.
Polar bears need sea ice to hunt, and the Last Ice Area can be a refuge. About a quarter of the world’s polar bears live in or around the region.
Most of the world’s narwhals spend at least part of the year in the Last Ice Area.
Global temperatures are affected by Arctic ice, and its ability to reflect the sun's heat.

What WWF is doing

WWF is working to limit climate change, but also planning for a future where the Arctic will look quite different. We are working with Arctic peoples and governments to find ways to limit the negative impacts of change on animals and people.

© Staffan Widstrand / WWF

We don't know everything about this remote region, but we know enough to understand that the future of ice dependent life is likely to be found here.

Given the shocking rate of ice retreat, and the comparatively slow rate of conservation and management planning, we are working now with local people and governments to sketch out a viable future for the region.

How we work
  • supporting the gathering of knowledge, both traditional and scientific, to help inform strategies for managing the region;
  • mapping the persistence of polynyas (areas of year-round open water, surrounded by sea ice);
  • supporting wildlife studies to establish how animals use the region;
  • convening workshops to help guide the gathering of knowledge, sharing knowledge with communities, and consulting on how the knowledge might best be applied to management;
  • helping to inform the Nunavut Land Use plan, and local and national conservation priorities, like the creation of the Lancaster Sound national Marine Conservation Area and the potential designation of a World Heritage Site;
  • supporting the work of the Pikialasorsuaq Commission, an initiative led by the Inuit Circumpolar Council that is examining the future of a highly productive polynya shared by Canada and Greenland.

We’re working to persuade people and governments of the urgent need for major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, so that people and wildlife can better adapt to the coming changes.

We're committed to ecosystem-based management of this area by protecting distinctive and representative areas and by developing a marine spatial plan. This form of management takes into account the entire ecosystem rather than focusing on individual projects, activities or species.

We support population surveys and satellite tracking of wildlife in the Last Ice Area and beyond, to support informed management, and to track the relationship of the species to the dwindling sea ice.

Changes in sea ice habitat mean polar bears are interacting more with people on the land and in the communities, crossing paths with local communities, putting people and bears at risk.

Resources

WWF has commissioned research and compiled some of the existing research to better explain and understand the significance of the Last Ice Area.

Background

Research

Species

Biophysical

Sociocultural

Management

Discussion and workshops

Expeditions

How we work

Publications

Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
Canada’s Arctic Marine Atlas
17 September 2018
The Last Ice Area introduction
The Last Ice Area introduction
15 September 2018
Canadian Arctic Greywater Report
Canadian Arctic Greywater Report
17 August 2018
The Circle 01.18
The Circle 01.18
1 May 2018
Polar Bear CAP Scorecard
Polar Bear CAP Scorecard
30 January 2018
Natural marine World Heritage in the Arctic Ocean
Natural marine World Heritage in the Arctic Ocean
4 April 2017

Meet the team

WWF-Canada

Vice President, Arctic

WWF-Denmark

Senior Advisor, Greenland and the Arctic

WWF-Canada

Senior specialist, Arctic marine conservation

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Canada

The Arctic is an important part of Canada's identity, and WWF supports its healthy future.

Greenland

WWF was the first global conservation organization to open an office in Greenland.