Sea ice coverage in the Arctic region hit its lowest annual maximum amount on record this year, researchers announced Monday.
Sea ice extent — the “cap of frozen seawater floating on top of the Arctic Ocean,” as NASA describes it — averaged 14.52 million square kilometers on March 24, the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA reported Monday.
The 13 smallest maximums on record have occurred in the past 13 years, NASA said. Since 1979, the Arctic Ocean has lost a cumulative 620,000 square miles of winter sea ice cover, NASA said, an area more than twice the size of Texas.
Arctic ice cover tends to peak in the early spring, after the winter months. Scientists attributed the decline in 2016 to warmer surface temperatures during the winter months, unfavorable wind patterns and warmer ocean waters, a trend that is expected to continue due to climate change.
“It is likely that we're going to keep seeing smaller wintertime maximums in the future because in addition to a warmer atmosphere, the ocean has also warmed up,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
“That warmer ocean will not let the ice edge expand as far south as it used to."
Mark Serreze, the director of the NSIDC, said, “I’ve never seen such a warm, crazy winter in the Arctic. The heat was relentless.”
Scientists expect sea levels to rise as climate change reduces the amount of Arctic and Antarctic ice cover. Scientists said in August that sea levels have risen an average of 3 inches worldwide since 1992 and could rise by up to 3 feet in the future.