The last time the North Pole was ice free was approximately 120,000 years ago. Modern human civilization has risen after the end of the last ice age, about 30,000 years ago. Within some lifetimes, the North Pole could be free of ice once again.
Provisional satellite data produced by the US National Snow & Ice Data Centre shows there were just over 11.1 million square kilometres of sea ice on June 1, of this year, compared to the average for the last 30 years of nearly 12.7 million square kilometres.
This difference – more than 1.5 million square kilometres – is about the same size as about six United Kingdoms.
Most of the remaining ice within the Arctic Circle would be trapped among the myriad of islands along Canada’s north coast.
The rapid warming of the polar region has been linked with extreme weather events such as “bomb cyclones”, flooding and out-of-season tornadoes.
And the sea ice off the north coast of Russia, which normally insulates the water below to keep it cool, is no longer present for much of the year, allowing the sea to get significantly warmer than before.
Loss of Antarctic ice has soared by 75 per cent in just 10 years
Scientists have monitored greenhouse gas methane – once frozen on the sea bed – bubbling up to the surface at an alarming rate.
According to one study published in the journal Nature, this could produce an average rise in global temperature of 0.6 degrees Celsius in just five years.
Less sea ice also means the surface of the Earth is darker, so it absorbs more of the sun’s energy.
An ice-free – and even an ice-reduced – Arctic is leading to global impacts on weather and ecosystems at unprecedented rates.