MPA Challenge: Climate Change

MPA and Climate Change (project phase II)
The initial plan was to assess the effects of climate change in the Artic on both abiotic factors (melting ice, fresh water input and acidification) and ecological factors (changes in primary production, shifts in species ranges, species distribution and abundance, loss of habitat, change in migratory patterns, etc.) (Soto, 2001; Roessig et al., 2004) at a high level of detail per MPA (specific species, stressors and their magnitude). Unfortunately, this  analysis could not be completed, because:

  • MPA information does not include specifics on the species and/or habitats that justify designation as an MPA.
  • The challenge on Climate Change, Coast and Riverine Inputs did not uncover relevant and usable datasets that could have been (re-)used for the MPA and Climate Change analysis. Neither did the project team find useful datasets on habitats, other than sea ice, for the MPA Challenge and the Coherence analysis.

With the lack of information available to the project, this challenge could not be completed in its intended fashion. 

The Coherence analysis resulted in identification of a single threatened habitat: Sea Ice. Sea ice is an essential habitat for a number of Arctic species and is only to a very small extent included within current MPA boundaries. As the root cause of the threats to sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is Climate Change, designating protected areas will not be helpful in safeguarding this habitat.

According to the results of the  susceptibility analysis, sea ice is susceptible to climate change. This indicates that there may also be significant ecological consequences of climate change. Climate change induced impacts on the sea ice habitat, will likely impact the local food webs as various species are dependent on the year-round availability of considerable areas of sea ice including:

  • the  Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus),
  • the Hooded Seal (Cystophora cristata),
  • Ringed Seal (Pusa hispida),
  • Narwal (Monodon Monoceros),
  • Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea),
  • Polar Cod (Boreogadus saida),
  • Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) and
  • Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas),

Sea Ice as a habitat threatened by climate change
The presented map of sea ice extent across the Arctic Ocean has been sourced from NSIDC (Fetterer et al., 2016). The 2015 maximum extent (March) and minimum extent (September) for sea ice extent are clearly much lower than the median extent during the period 1981-2010.

MPA sea ice extent 2015

The following graph uses projected data for the minimum extent (September) of Arctic sea ice from 2010 to 2100 (data sourced from One Shared Ocean, 2017), it also includes the (lower) observed sea ice extent for September 2015. 

MPA observed sea ice extent 2015
The maximum sea ice extent has also been decreasing (NSICD, 2017) as pictured below. The March 2015 extent as presented above in a map amounts to 14.5 million km2.

MPA maximum sea ice extent 2017

One more characteristic of sea ice that is clearly changing over the last three decades is the amount of multi-year ice, as is illustrated by another graph from NSICD (2017). 

MPA multi year ice nsicd 2017


  • Fetterer, F., K. Knowles, W. Meier, and M. Savoie. 2016, updated daily. Sea Ice Index, Version 2. Boulder, Colorado USA. NSIDC: National Snow and Ice Data Center. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.7265/N5736NV7.
  • NSICD. (2017). National Snow and Ice Data Center, News section accessed 5 May 2017, https://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/
  • One Shared Ocean. (2017). Arctic Sea Ice projection. http://onesharedocean.org/public_store/oo_sea_ice/oo_seaicearctic_rcp85.zip
  • Roessig JM, Woodley CM, Cech JJ, Hansen LJ. (2004). Effects of global climate change on marine and estuarine fishes and fisheries. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 14:251-275
  • Soto CG. (2001). The potential impacts of global climate change on marine protected areas. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 11:181-195