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Arctic Sea Ice Max Hits Record Lows Again

Arctic sea ice was at a record low wintertime maximum extent for the second straight year. At 5.607 million square miles, it is the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record. Credits: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr

For the second straight year, maximum Arctic sea ice levels are at the lowest levels ever recorded.

The new numbers were announced Monday by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), and NASA.

At its peak, the Arctic ice covered an average of 14.52 million square kilometers. That is a bit less than last year's record low of 14.54 million square kilometers.

“The Arctic is in crisis," according to Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist. "...significant changes that will reshape the climate, ecosystem, coastline (erosion), and human activity in the Arctic are underway."

Scambos told VOA, " is happening at a very fast pace - really in just the last 15 years, for significant changes (but they were detectable in the 1990s), and will proceed at this pace for the next few decades."

Impact likely to extend beyond Arctic

Just exactly how this decrease of ice in the Arctic will affect the world is something the NSIDC is trying to figure out.

Warm water from the Atlantic for instance, is a likely reason ice levels were unusually low in the Barents Sea.

But some studies suggest that little understood changes in the planet's large circulating water patterns, and what scientists call "decreased heat flux" in the warm Atlantic waters that flow North from the equator could actually reverse the trend of less ice.

"... decreased heat flux of warm Atlantic waters could lead to a recovery of all Arctic sea ice in the near future,” said NSIDC senior research scientist Julienne Stroeve. “I think it will have more of a winter impact and could lead to a temporary recovery of winter ice extent in the Barents and Kara seas.”

Next measurements in fall

While scientists keep trying to understand how climate change continues to effect sea ice, they will continue to monitor sea ice levels, with the next big benchmark coming in September when NSIDC will measure the sea ice minimum.

The Arctic ice minimum has hit its lowest recorded point three times this century, once in 2005, then again in 2007 and 2012.

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    Kevin Enochs

    Kevin Enochs is an award-winning content creator who has been explaining the intricacies of the natural world to television and online audiences for over 20 years.

    He perfected his craft working for CNN and the National Geographic Channel before heading to the Voice of America in 2012.