The change over the arctic sea ice is stunning. Between 2005 and this winter, thick ice has been reduced by about the size of Californian and Texas combined. Scientists are tracking the causes.
Here In the frigid waters of the Arctic, a team aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter " Healy" studies the sea ice for signs of climate change.
Scientists also monitor the arctic ice cap from space, and they’re worried by what they see.
Son Nghiem, Research Scientist, NASA 's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The change over the arctic sea ice is stunning. We’ve never, ever seen such a large change before. Just between 2005 and this winter, the change in the perennial sea ice, which is the thick large arctic sea ice, reduced by a million square kilometers. That's about the area of California and Texas combined.
A chunk of thick ice the size of two states has disappeared in two years.
Is global warming the cause?
Son Nghiem and Greg Neumann of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory say they don't have enough data yet to tell. But they do know at least part of the answer is blowing in the wind.
Gregory Neumann, Radar Engineer, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
We believe it's due to unusual wind patterns, which caused the ice to be pushed out of the Arctic, past Greenland, and then it melted.
In the Arctic ocean, normally there is a current called the Transpolar Drift that goes from the Russian side toward the Canadian side then out to the Greenland Sea.
This wind pattern pushed the ice on both sides of this current and loaded it into this current. It pushed it or accelerated it out like a runaway train.
When thick perennial ice is lost, it's hard to reverse the trend.
There are two kinds of Arctic ice. There's the kind that sticks around for many years, more than one, and that can grow to be very thick. And then there's the kind of ice that grows and melts every year.
It seems that in recent years, as ice has been lost, it gets easier to lose more ice. It's more sensitive to the weather pattern, to wind and other factors.
It means that various kinds of creatures that live in the Arctic, the polar bears, the seals. They could be affected.
The reduction of arctic sea ice has been occurring over the past eight years. It is likely it may continue, but there's no guarantee for that.
Satellites like NASA’s QuikScat can identify different types of sea ice, where it’s moving and determine if it's growing and shrinking.
So while scientists may not have a complete answer to why the ice is disappearing, they at least have the tools to study it.