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‘Oasis of the Arctic’ threatened

North Water polynya

In the waters of the Arctic between Greenland, and Canada’s Ellesmere and North Baffin Islands, lies the North Water polynya (NOW). These open waters are over 80,000 km (or 50,000 miles) long, and are a vital habitat in the North. A polynya is a large pool of water surrounded by ice, and NOW is the largest Arctic polynya on earth. It is known for its warm waters, and upwelling of nutrients, and is found at a convergence of Arctic and Pacific Oceans.

In spring, plankton blooms attract fish, polar bears, narwhals, seals, clams, scallops, sponges, anemones, and crabs. This algae bloom is also essential to the survival of endangered Bowhead, Blue, sei, and beluga whales; and Humpback, minke, and fin whales.

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) has accelerated research into the state of the North Water polynya with a RACER (Rapid Assessment of Circum-Arctic Ecosystem Resilience) study. The WWF says the fertile North Water polynya is a critical refuge that “sustain(s) species throughout the marine food web, from the tiniest copepod that grazes on the mass of algae on the ice edge, to the elusive ivory gulls that may be seen feasting on the abundant fish stocks that thrive in these ice-encircled open water areas.”

Scientists are concerned that climate change will severely strain life in this oasis of the Arctic, and changes are already being felt. The eastern side is opening earlier and not freezing on time–endangering not just animals–but the Inuit who have depended on the animals who migrate to the North Water polynya for over 5,000 years.

The northern ice bridge in Kane Basin that sustains the North Water polynya is under threat. The CBC has reported that Sofia Ribeiro, of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, is forecasting that its collapse is “relatively imminent”.

The area is also important to many seabirds during their long migrations like: Atlantic puffins, Sabines gulls, Arctic terns, ivory gulls, common eiders, thick-billed murres, little auks, black-legged kittiwakes, Arctic skuas, and northern fulmars.

It may take several years or decades, but the loss of the North Water polynya could have incalculable consequences for the animals and residents of the Arctic.


Climate change puts North Water Polynya, a source of Arctic life, in imminent danger. (2021, August 15). CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/north-water-polynya-under-threat-1.6140307

‘RACER’ (Rapid Assessment of Circumarctic Ecosystem Resilience). (2012). World Wildlife Fund. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwipr8j2mrbyAhVEhuAKHbjFBmAQFnoECAcQAw&url=https%3A%2F%2Farcticwwf.org%2Fsite%2Fassets%2Ffiles%2F1614%2Fracer_handbook-1.pdf&usg=AOvVaw2KM2XspxhFmuah4bdY0Fvp

Vulnerability of the North Water ecosystem to climate change. (2021, July 22). Nature Magazine. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-24742-0

North Water Polynya. (2021, February 14). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Water_Polynya


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