On July 12, 2011, crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy retrieved a canister dropped by parachute from a C-130, which brought supplies for some mid-mission fixes. The ICESCAPE mission, or "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment," is NASA's two-year shipborne investigation to study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems. The bulk of the research takes place in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011. Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen On July 12, 2011, crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy retrieved a canister dropped by parachute from a C-130, which brought supplies for some mid-mission fixes.The ICESCAPE mission, or "Impacts of Climate on Ecosystems and Chemistry of the Arctic Pacific Environment," is NASA's two-year shipborne investigation to study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems. The bulk of the research takes place in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in summer 2010 and 2011.Credit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen  National Journal

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Arctic sea ice has reached its lowest-ever wintertime level, a fresh indication that rapidly rising global temperatures are significantly impacting the polar region.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center announced Thursday that this year's Arctic ice cover hit a peak of 5.61 million square miles at the end of February, an alltime winter low since records began in 1979.

Arctic sea ice expands and shrinks on a seasonal basis. Polar ice is typically at its thickest and most expansive in the winter before significant amounts of the Arctic's ice sheets melt away during the spring.

That trend is to be expected, scientists say. But what is not typical is how thin Arctic ice has become in recent years during the winter.

Temperatures are rising twice as fast in the polar region than the rest of the planet due to climate change, and scientists predict that within decades Arctic ice could completely disappear.

The latest data show that the Arctic's winter ice is at its lowest level, beating out the previous low of 5.65 million square miles in 2011.

As the Arctic melts, maritime experts, lawmakers, and federal officials caution that the U.S. lacks critical infrastructure and investment needed to respond to spills and other accidents in the polar region.

This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.

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