As sea ice in the Arctic continues to shrink during this century, more than two thirds of the area with sufficient snow cover for ringed seals to reproduce also will disappear, challenging their survival, scientists report in a new study.
The ringed seal, currently under consideration for threatened species listing, builds caves to rear its young in snow drifts on sea ice. Snow depths must be on average at least 20 centimeters, or 8 inches, to enable drifts deep enough to support the caves.
“It’s an absolute condition they need,” said Cecilia Bitz, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. She’s a co-author of the study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
But without sea ice, the platform that allows the snow to pile up disappears, ultimately reducing the area where the seals can raise their pups.