NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio
NASA satellite data compares the average minimum extent to which the Arctic sea ice has shrunk over the past 30 years (in yellow) to where the ice had retreated to by September 16, 2012.
The Arctic ice cap has shrunk to its smallest size yet this summer, according to new satellite images from NASA.
The ice has been gradually decreasing over the last 30 years amid increasing ocean and air temperatures, the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported.
The sea ice now covers 1.32 million square miles, compared to the previous low of 1.61 million square miles in 2007. That five-year shrinkage represents an area slightly smaller than the state of Texas.
Shrinkage of the Arctic ice naturally occurs in the warmer spring and summer months and grows during the dark winter months. NSIDC warned that although this appears to represent the extent of the ice retreat for this year, there is still time for it to shrink further this month.
Scientists warn the trend is alarming both in terms of the speed at which the melt is happening and in terms of what this means for the Earth's overall health.
From the AP:
"Arctic sea ice is one of the most sensitive of nature's thermometers," said Jason Box, an Ohio State University polar researcher.
What happens in the Arctic changes climate all over the rest of the world, scientists have reported in studies.
The ice in the Arctic "essentially acts like an air conditioner by keeping things cooler," Meier said. And when sea ice melts more, it's like the air conditioner isn't running efficiently, he said.