A new study has revealed that with sea ice at its lowest point in 1,500 years, ecological communities in the Arctic are being affected by its continued and even accelerated melting over the next decades.
Eric Post, a Penn State University professor of biology, and an international team of scientists have examined relationships among algae, plankton, whales, and terrestrial animals such as caribou, arctic foxes, and walrus; as well as the effects of human exploration of previously inaccessible parts of the region.
"Our team set out to explore the 'domino effect' of sea-ice loss on marine animals, as well as on land-dwelling species living adjacent to ice," Post said.
Post explained that, after reaching its record low in August of 2012, sea ice is expected to continue to melt at an accelerating rate.
"Over the entire period covered by the record, Arctic sea ice has declined by more than 86,000 square kilometers-a space slightly larger than the state of South Carolina-per year," Post said.
"That's an area of critical habitat for many species and the rate of loss is increasing," he said.
Post added that an acceleration of this rate likely will be due, in part, to the loss of albedo-the white surface provided by ice that reflects sunlight-thereby causing a cooling effect.
The high albedo of ice, Post added, will be replaced by a much less-reflective, darker surface of open water-and the effect will be accelerated warming and thus, accelerated melting.
"By viewing sea ice as essential habitat and a substrate for important species interactions, rather than as a lifeless blank surface, its loss as a result of warming becomes a rather stunning prospect," he said.
The study is published in the journal Science.