Europe is losing seasonal sea ice faster than perennial

Walruses, belugas and narwhals are the most affected marine mammal species

Credit: National Geographic 1) Sergey Gorshkov, 2) Nansen Weber, 3) and 7) Paul Nicklen, 4) Florian Schulz, 5) Kaido Haagen, 8) Brian Skerry; IUCN 6) Morten Joergensen; 9) IFAW.

According to the preliminary results of an ongoing research where Joan Parera and Raquel Ubach are developing a new indicator for monitoring sea ice extent, seasonal sea ice is declining faster than perennial Parera proposes to adapt the IceMap250 algorithm to European sea regions. The use of MODIS optical and infrared imagery allows sea ice extent mapping at a higher resolution (250 m at nadir) than that of the commonly used satellite data, thus enabling a finer vulnerability mapping in the European sea regions to determine where conservation measures should be prioritized.

The continued loss of sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere due to global warming poses a threat on biota and human activities, evidencing the necessity of efficient sea ice monitoring tools. To prove the indicator’s utility and applicability, a vulnerability assessment has been carried out for nine sea ice associated marine mammal species, following the cumulative impact mapping methodology. Same preliminary results rank species vulnerability, being walruses, belugas and narwhals the most affected by the loss of sea ice.

Impact has been found to be larger north of Svalbard, Franz Josef Land, and in the central Barents Sea, highlighting the need for conservation measures in these areas.

Key messages from the preliminary results

1) Seasonal sea ice is declining faster than perennial sea ice in the European sea regions. Perennial sea ice refers to the extent of the ice cover which is stable all year long, i.e. the minimum extent (September), while seasonal sea ice is the variable portion of the ice cover, i.e. the difference between the maximum extent (March) and the minimum. Contrary to the observed tendencies, sea ice in the whole Northern Hemisphere is declining faster in September.

 2) walruses, belugas and narwhals are the most affected by the loss of sea ice FROM the nine analysed marine mammal species. The impact caused by this loss is especially severe in the northern coast of Svalbard and the central Barents Sea.

 3) A new map synthesis approach has allowed the minimization of classification errors and the effects of atmospheric conditions. Together with other changes concerning the classification method, the modified algorithm has achieved systematically better total accuracies than the original IceMap250.



European Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation (ETC/ACM)

The European Topic Centre on Air Pollution and Climate Change Mitigation (ETC/ACM) is a consortium of 14 partner organisations in 10 European countries that supports the European Environment Agency (EEA) in Copenhagen.

The main task of ETC/ACM is to assist EEA in supporting EU environmental policy and legislative frameworks and to allow for adequate responses to emerging needs. Such support involves improving the reporting of monitoring and inventory data, information dissemination, and integrated assessments. To this end ETC/ACM analyses in a balanced way the causality chain of environmental policy making: Driving forces, Pressures, State, Impacts and Responses (DPSIR).

The ETC/ACM activities focus on following main policy processes and frameworks:

  • Climate change mitigation and energy pollution (with reference to EU’s Climate Action)
  • Air pollution, transport and noise
  • Industrial pollution

More information about the ETC/ACM can be found in:

Interfase-UAB  is one of the 14 partner organizations, and it is responsible of the provision of support to EEA, the Member States and the EEA member countries under the Eionet network and collaborating countries on the environmental noise field.

The main tasks consist in supporting the collection of noise data reported under the Environmental Noise Directive (END) and its quality checking for further assessment and dissemination.