An agent-based modelling tool to estimate the effect of retreating sea-ice and intensifying human activities on seals in the Arctic


As a result of global warming, the extent of the Arctic sea-ice has decreased dramatically over the past few decades. Many Arctic seal species rely on sea-ice for breeding and resting. The retreating sea-ice may change the accessibility to suitable foraging areas, decrease the availability of high quality breeding sites, and increase competition on land and at sea. Furthermore, as the ice retreats, shipping and offshore Arctic mining will increase and may further impact the distribution and abundance of these seal populations. Several local studies have highlighted the potential negative consequences of global warming and direct human impact on Arctic seals. However, there is a lack of insight in future population changes of these species in a rapidly changing environment. We can close that gap by developing a circumpolar model that is capable of predicting population-level consequences of the retreating sea-ice. In this project, agent- or individual-based models will be developed to simulate potential outcomes of these changes for walruses, bearded seals and ringed seals. In addition, to estimate the distribution of Arctic seals, the use of high-resolution satellite images will be explored; a low-cost method for the detection of seals on the sea-ice. This project will produce a toolbox to simulate the development of Arctic seal populations as the sea-ice retreats. Ultimately, the toolbox will be a valuable asset to simulate new scenarios to assess the impact of human activities on seals in the Arctic environment.


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. W.M. Mooij

Affiliated with

Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Nederlands Instituut voor Ecologie (NIOO)


01/01/2018 to 31/12/2021