Arctic sea ice appears to have shrunk to its lowest level on record for this time of year, scientists said this week.
The amount of ice covering the sea around the Arctic regularly grows through the dark freezing winter before melting as the summer months near.
This winter, the maximum level of ice seems to have been reached earlier than usual, on February 25, according to the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Center.
The amount of ice coverage was also the lowest in a satellite record dating back to 1979.
A late season surge in winter sea ice growth is still possible, the NSIDC said, adding it would publish a more detailed set of figures in early April.
“However, it now appears unlikely that there could be sufficient growth to surpass the extent reached on February 25,” the centre said in a statement.
The new data are a fresh sign of the impact of climate change, said some researchers.
“This is further evidence that global warming and its impacts have not stopped despite the inaccurate and misleading claims of climate change ‘sceptics’,” said Bob Ward, policy and communications director at London’s Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
Rafe Pomerance, chairman of the Arctic 21 coalition of groups working on climate change in the Arctic, said: “This new data on sea ice loss sends a clear message to the global community that the Arctic is unravelling, warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.”
The NSIDC said the maximum ice extent in the Arctic in February was 425,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 average of 6.04m square miles and just over 50,000 square miles below the previous lowest maximum in 2011.
Part of the explanation for the record low lies with recent weather patterns, including an unusual configuration of the jet stream.
Over the first two weeks of March, temperatures throughout the eastern Arctic at certain altitudes were several degrees Celsius above average, and as much as 8 to 10 degrees Celsius above average in the Barents Sea between Svalbard and Franz Josef Land.
Seven-day weather forecasts show continued warmer than average conditions over the eastern Arctic. But colder conditions are expected over the Bering Sea which may still lead to some new ice formation.
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