Projections of Climate Change Impacts in the Arctic Ocean


An aerial view showing severe coastal erosion near Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island (Nunavut) also shows that the "fast ice" (ice that was 'fastened' or stuck to the shoreline) has melted or moved offshore by early July, 2010. Photo: Jennifer Vollrath / DFO.

The Arctic Ocean is becoming more dynamic than in previous years, and projections that it will see ice-free summers by 2030–2050 have underestimated the rate at which ice is being lost. Better projections are needed to understand how this will affect ecosystems, transport routes, and northern infrastructure.

This project will use computer models to estimate high-resolution regional climate change projections of Arctic atmospheric variables such as winds and sea level pressure, as well as sea ice and ocean currents, for the period 1970-2069, validated against previously obtained chemical tracer data. To inform more accurate projections, researchers collected water samples in the Canadian Basin, the Beaufort Sea, and between Alert, Nunavut and the North Pole. Samples were analyzed for the concentration of a chemical tracer (Iodine-129) that can be tracked from known origins to determine the rate of water circulation, and used to estimate the circulation and mixing rate of Atlantic water through the Canadian Basin. For example, water samples taken near the North Pole showed increased Iodine-129 concentration from 1994 to 2012, as a result of increased concentration in European waters in the 1990s. This provides the means to precisely estimate the transit time of water in this region. It is unprecedented to have such a complete record of changes in a major oceanic basin. Therefore, this study offers a unique opportunity to validate climate models by comparing data to the projections made using various models.

Results: Estimates made using validated models suggest that sea ice is decreasing in the Arctic by 11 per cent per decade and that the Arctic will be largely ice-free by about 2070. Model simulations will allow researchers to estimate variations in the key driving factors for ecosystem conditions in various climate change scenarios.

Maps of projected changes in sea ice, ocean currents, and other characteristics resulting from this work have been formatted for clients and the results of this study will be included in eight scientific journal articles.

Program Name

Aquatic Climate Change Adaptation Services Program (ACCASP)


Central Canada: Lake Winnipeg, Nelson River Drainage Basin

Principal Investigator(s)

Will Perrie
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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