Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is likely to hit record lows next week, and then keep on melting, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center.
"A new daily record ... would be likely by the end of August," said Ted Scambos, lead scientist at the data center, which monitors ice in the Arctic and elsewhere. "Chances are it will cross the previous record while we're still in sea ice retreat."
The amount of sea ice in the Arctic is important because this region is a potent global weather-maker, sometimes characterized as the world's air conditioner. This year, the loss of sea ice in the Arctic has suggested a possible opening of the Northwest Passage north of Canada and Alaska and the Northern Sea Route by Europe and Siberia. As parts of the Arctic melted, 2012 also set records for heat and drought in much of the Northern Hemisphere temperate zone, especially the continental United States.
This summer could see the ice retreat to less than 1.5 million square miles (4 million square km), an unprecedented low, Scambos said.
The previous record was set in 2007, when Arctic ice cover shrank to 1.66 million square miles (4.28 million square km), 23 percent below the earlier record set in 2005 and 39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000.
However, 2007 was a jaw-dropping "perfect storm" of conditions that primed the area for thawing sea ice: warmer and sunnier than usual, with extremely warm ocean water and winds all working together to melt the Arctic.
Last year, Arctic sea ice extended over the second-smallest area on record, but that was considered to be closer to a "new normal" rather than the extreme conditions of 2007, NSIDC said then.