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

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers. This is where one employee is still currently isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was first declared on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
54 positive COVID-19 cases associated with LNG Canada site outbreak

There’s been a two-person increase in positive cases since Tuesday (Dec. 1)

K-J Millar/The Northern View
8 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the Northern Health Authority

Since Nov. 27, there have been 191 new cases reported in NHA

A coal-fired power plant seen through dense smog from the window of an electric bullet train south of Beijing, December 2016. China has continued to increase thermal coal production and power generation, adding to greenhouse gas emissions that are already the world’s largest. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
LNG featured at B.C. energy industry, climate change conference

Hydrogen, nuclear, carbon capture needed for Canada’s net-zero goal

Two snowmobilers stranded overnight near Yanks Peak were rescued Wednesday, Dec. 2 by Central Cariboo Search Rescue with mutual aid from Prince George Search and Rescue and South Cariboo Search. (Central Cariboo Search and Rescue photo)
Central Cariboo Search and Rescue rescues two snowmobilers from Cariboo Mountains

Prince George Search and Rescue, South Cariboo Search and Rescue did mutual aid

Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital took in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health as part of a provincial agreement. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria hospital takes in two COVID-19 patients from Northern Health

Royal Jubilee Hospital takes patients as part of provincial transport network

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix wears a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, during an announcement about a new regional cancer centre, in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, August 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
PHSA bought faulty respirators; spent money on catering, renovations: Dix

Such spending included ‘unnecessary, unbudgeted renovations’ to the authority’s headquarters in Vancouver

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan releases his election platform, Vancouver, Oct. 6, 2020, featuring COVID-19 relief payments promised for most households. (B.C. NDP photo)
Next $1.5 billion in B.C. COVID-19 cash ‘prudent,’ Horgan says

New round of payments for household incomes up to $175,000

Most Read