As global temperatures rise due to manmade climate change, the Arctic ice sheet is shrinking, and is now the smallest it’s ever been.
The area of Arctic waters covered by ice typically peaks in mid-March. This year, the ice maxed out a whole two weeks earlier, on February 25, and was 425,000 square miles (1.10 million square kilometers) smaller than recent historical norms, found the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. Unless a sudden cold draft sweeps through the Artic, it will be a new record.
NASA made an amazing video that shows ice creep across the Arctic waters, and then stop short.
In 2015, it measured 5.61 million square miles (14.54 million square kilometers), versus its average of 6.04 million square miles (15.64 million square kilometers). Recent research also showed that Arctic ice has thinned 65% between 1975 and 2012. A diminishing Arctic could mess with the Earth’s weather, but also open up new shipping routes.
Scientists think that an unseasonably warm February, caused by “an unusual configuration of the jet stream,” contributed to shrinking sea ice in the Sea of Okhtosk and the Bering Sea. But to know just how dire the situation is, we might have to wait until the summer, to see the warmer season’s minimum level of arctic ice, which scientists say is a better indication of climate change—and is not necessarily related to winter levels.
The chart below shows the sea ice cover as of March 18, compared to previous years.