The melting of sea ice in the Arctic had decreased enough in midsummer that researchers did not expect to see a new minimum sea ice record.

However, statistics gathered by NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center indicate that the melting of sea ice is alreadly "wildly" changing the region.

Sea Ice Level

In May, the level of Arctic sea ice saw its record all-time low, reaching about 4.63 million square miles, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).

Now, sea ice data collected by NASA suggest that the region is not showing signs of significant recovery. Instead, the sea ice minimum in 2016 is leaning toward the "new normal."

Goddard sea ice scientist Walt Meier says the level of Arctic sea continues to decline over the long term.

Ten years ago, this year's sea ice minimum would have set a new record low by a fair amount. Today, however, scientists are used to seeing low levels of sea ice.

"It's the new normal," says Meier.

Tom Wagner, NASA's cryosphere research program manager, says that as 2016 becomes one of the hottest years on record, sea ice levels in the Arctic appear to be among the lowest.

"It doesn't look like the ice is healing or growing back," says Wagner.

In fact, Wagner says the Arctic sea ice has lost more than two-thirds of what it had in the 1980s, indicating that the melting is a long-term trend. What's more, the region may lose more sea ice in the future.

Why It Matters

Monitoring the health of the Arctic sea ice matters because it is considered as a the general indicator of what is happening to the total climate system on Earth.

Wagner says what is happening in the Arctic is not something that will impact humanity in the far off future because the planet is not changing; it is changed. Indeed, the loss of sea ice is already changing the polar region.

In the end, we all have to deal with the change that has happened in the Arctic, says Wagner.

The melting of glaciers in Greenland, Canada and Alaska has raised sea levels to the point that New York and Miami experience flooding, he adds.

Measuring Ice Thickness

As climate scientists keep an eye out on the Arctic, NASA is preparing a new method to measure sea ice thickness: by tracking from orbit.

Cryosphere lab chief Thorsten Markus says scientists have a good handle on the sea ice area change. However, they have little information on how thick the ice change is, he says.

Markus and the team will use the ICESat-2 or the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 to get a more complete understanding of the thickness. This satellite will be launched by 2018.

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