The amount of sea ice in both the Arctic and Antarctic is at a record low and climate change is partly to blame, scientists announced Wednesday.
Overall, the combined Arctic and Antarctic sea ice numbers are at their lowest point since satellites began to continuously measure sea ice in 1979.
Arctic sea ice reached a record wintertime low for the third straight year, while sea ice around Antarctica shrank to its lowest summertime area on record. Scientists blame the decline in ice on a combination of natural, random weather and man-made global warming from the burning of coal, oil and gas.
Sea ice is frozen ocean water that has an annual cycle of melting during the summer and refreezing in winter. It floats on top of the ocean. The data comes from scientists at NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colo.
“Nature is sending us yet another distress call — the time to address human-caused climate change is now," said Lou Leonard of the World Wildlife Fund. "The Arctic is dramatically changing and worldwide, people, communities and wildlife are at risk from its cascading effects."
Sea ice in the Arctic affects wildlife such as polar bears, seals and walruses. It also helps regulate the planet’s temperature by influencing the circulation of the atmosphere and ocean. It can affect weather in the U.S.
The area of Arctic ice this month was at 5.57 million square miles — 471,000 square miles less than average.
The Arctic has been freakishly warm over the past two years. “I have been looking at Arctic weather patterns for 35 years and have never seen anything close to what we’ve experienced these past two winters,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze.
The ongoing decline of sea ice in the Arctic "is a clear indicator of climate change,” said Walt Meier, a NASA scientist and an affiliate scientist at NSIDC.
In Antarctica sea ice around the continent shrank to 815,000 square miles on March 3, the lowest on record, scientists said. The previous record low ice area in Antarctica occurred in 1997.
The causes of annual fluctuations in Antarctic sea ice are not as well understood as in the Arctic, scientists said, and can vary wildly from year to year.
Contributing: Associated Press