Five years ago, Arctic sea ice shrank to a new low. Now, even that record’s been shattered; the ice pack now is 18 percent smaller. That’s a difference the size of Texas.
“We are now in uncharted territory,” says Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”
The downward plunge in ice mirrors a separate chart trending up: the prospects of an ice-free Arctic waterway for the shipping industry. For now, steaming across the roof of the world remains experimental: 34 ships made the trek last year, carrying more than 800,000 tons of fish, minerals and gas. This year’s totals stand to surpass that.