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.
As Arctic melt accelerates, Canada moves to protect 'The Last Ice Area'
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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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
WWF has commissioned research and compiled some of the existing research to better explain and understand the significance of the Last Ice Area.
- Greenland shark - Deriving data for Northern Community Management of Arctic ecosystems (2015)
- Testing Methods for Using High-Resolution Satellite Imagery to Monitor Polar Bear Abundance and Distribution (2015)
- Projected Polar Bear Sea Ice Habitat in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago based on WWF sea ice projection for RCP 8.5 (2014)
- Polar bear - Viscount Melville (2013-2014)
- Polar bear - Viscount Melville (2012-2013)
- Polar bear - Baffin Bay - genetic mark recapture (2013)
- Polar bear - Viscount Melville (2012)
- Caribou and Muskoxen - Survey on Melville and Prince Patrick Islands (2012)
- Oil spill modelling in the Last Ice Area, including blowouts and ship-source spills (2016)
- North Water Polynya - RACER assessment (2015)
- Geoscience Resource Development Report - Last Ice Area (2014)
- Polynyas in the Canadian Arctic (2014)
- Last Ice Area technical report to better project the potential fate of summer sea ice (2013)
- Areas of Ecological and Biological significance or Vulnerability in the Arctic Marine Environment (2010)
- Geological resources of the Last Ice Area
- WWF Last Ice Area Traditional Knowledge Report Summary
- Large-Scale Marine Development Projects (Mineral, Oil and Gas, Infrastructure) Proposed for Canada’s North (2014)
- The Sea Ice is our Highway - Report commissioned by Inuit Circumpolar Council Canada, detailing Inuit use of sea ice. (2008)
- Natural marine World Heritage in the Arctic Ocean - Identifies sites within LIA as priority areas (2017)
- Draft Nunavut land use plan including designation of LIA areas (2016)
- Identification of Arctic marine areas of heightened ecological and cultural significance: Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (2013)
- A Summary of Legal Instruments and National Frameworks for Arctic Marine Conservation (2000)
Discussion and workshops
- Management Options in the LIA For Consideration and Comment by Inuit (2014)
- Report of the Arctic Regional Workshop to Facilitate the Description of Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (2014)
- Iqaluit LIA workshop (2013)
- Report from the first official consultation session on LIA with Inuit organization representatives - Nuuk (2012)
How we work
WWF is looking at the future management of the "Last Ice Area", the place where summer sea ice is projected to persist longest.
The Last Ice Area will be essential as an enduring home for ice-dependent life. WWF-Denmark has made a proposal to include the Greenland section of the Last Ice Area on the tentative list for UNESCO world heritage.
WWF has created maps and posters for Canadian ships in the Arctic to help mariners identify and avoid marine mammals.
WWF supports a multi-partner research project with local Inuit communities, fitting satellite radio-transmitters to narwhals to investigate seasonal movements, key staging and wintering habitats, dive depths and diets.