The US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) said on Thursday that at its peak the ice covered just over 14.5m sq km of the northern seas. This was 130,000 sq km smaller than the previous lowest maximum in 2011.
The peak occurred on 25 February, which the NSIDC’s senior research scientist Ted Scambos said was “very early but not unprecedented”.
Climate change is driving declining ice coverage in the Arctic, with a recent study finding it has also become significantly thinner, down 65% since 1975.
Scambos said northern oceans have progressively warmed because of climate change. This winter, the warmer seas combined with mild weather to create exceptionally poor conditions for the annual freeze.
“[The record low extent] is significant, in that it shows that the Arctic is being seriously impacted by our warming climate,” said Scambos. “In general, sea ice retreat has proceeded faster than modelling expects in the Arctic, although models are catching up.”
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