Sea ice has hit new record lows at both poles

Sea ice has hit new record lows at both poles

But the ice cover was 471,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average maximum.

In the Arctic, sea ice expands during the winter time.

Shrinking sea ice does more than threaten polar bear habitats. And over the past 30 years, Earth's northern cap has warmed more than any other region on the planet, NSIDC scientists said. Little growth in winter, means more open water to absorb sun-heat in summer, and consequently could lead to even warmer water that could mean less ice growth the next winter.

The ice data center measures how wide sea ice extends based on satellite imagery. This February, when sea ice levels were at their highest point, the Arctic Ocean's sea ice spread 5.57 million square miles, down from 5.606 million square miles than past year. A year ago featured the hottest temperature on record, and heat waves across the Arctic Ocean melted a sizable amount of ice this past winter.

Because different climate models use different assumptions about the role of natural climate variation, existing projections suggest the first summer without Arctic sea ice could occur between 2030 and 2080-a 50-year range. A series of storms towards the end of the winter also compounded the problem, halting the regrowth of ice. Not only is the areal coverage decreasing, but the ice is also becoming thinner, and NASA says this is "making it very vulnerable to the action of ocean waters, winds and warmer temperatures". The ice extent was 71,000 square miles (184,000 square km) lower than the last record low, hit in 1997.

The Arctic ice sheet typically reaches its highest level in early March, but on March 7 this year it stood at 14.42 million square kilometres, the smallest in the 38-year satellite record, data from the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) showed on Wednesday.

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Constant warmth punctuated by repeated winter heat waves stymied Arctic sea ice growth this winter, leaving the winter sea ice cover missing an area the size of California and Texas combined and setting a record-low maximum for the third year in a row.

After decades of moderate sea ice expansion, NASA is witnessing something it did not expect.

Serreze said seasonal weather conditions around the Arctic will determine whether the minimum sea-ice extent will set another record.

Global warming shrank animals in the past. "However, this might just be an extreme case of pushing the envelope of year-to-year variability".

But overall, Antarctic ice has shown a far more unpredictable pattern than has ice in the Arctic, bouncing around dramatically in recent years and actually trending upward slightly overall - a behavior that has puzzled scientists.

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