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The Arctic Ocean experienced its lowest maximum level of sea ice on record this year, officials said Wednesday. 

Arctic sea ice reached an extent of 5.57 million square miles on March 7, researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center said, marking its largest area of coverage for the winter season. 

But the ice cover was 471,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average maximum. It was 37,000 square miles smaller than the previous low, observed in February 2015, making it the smallest maximum ice cover observed in the 38-year history of satellite record keeping.   

{mosads}This year’s record low was the third straight year to break the smallest maximum ice coverage mark. The 14 lowest Arctic ice maximums have happened in the last 14 years.

Researchers blamed the low ice extent on a “very warm autumn and winter” in the Arctic. 

According to the report, the average air temperature in the Arctic region was 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the entire Arctic, and some areas experienced temperatures 9 degrees warmer than normal. There were additional “extreme heat waves” over the Arctic Ocean throughout the winter.

The Center’s Arctic report comes one day after the World Meteorological Organization released a report about historic levels of extreme weather events — including Arctic temperatures — that began last year and have continued into 2017. 

So far this year, the agency has observed three “polar equivalent[s] of a heatwave,” where temperatures there were close to the melting point.

Tags Arctic Ocean Climate change
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