Arctic ice continues to dwindle down to levels that are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. According to data gathered by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice levels this winter were the lowest on record since we started snapping satellite images in 1979. Scientists are afraid the low level trends will persist, and now predict that in the next 20 to 25 years, there may not be any ice at all in the Arctic during the summer months.

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Arctic sea ice cover fluctuates throughout the year, depending on the season, but it typically reaches its height during February to April. This year’s data revealed that Artic sea ice topped at 5.607 million square miles, down from 5.612 million square miles last year.

Related: Photo of frail polar bear illuminates the tragedy unfolding in the Arctic

NASA reports that the 13 lowest winter sea ice records all happened in the last 13 years. Scientists think this means that Arctic ice cover is not only shrinking, but may not recover. When there’s less ice in the Arctic, the dark water takes in more solar heat, and retains that heat from year to year as still more ice melts.

Chief Scientist of the International Arctic Research Center Dr. John Walsh said, “Sometime in the 2030s or 2040s time frame, at least for a few days, you won’t have ice out there in the dead of summer.” While he says there will still be ice in the winter, it will be thinner and not as dependable for the indigenous people who use it to travel and hunt.

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Dramatic results of the trend can be glimpsed on transportation routes: in 1975, there used to be only a few days every year when the ice was melted enough for ships to travel along the northern coast of Alaska from Prudhoe Bay to Barrow. Today ships can make that trek throughout a couple of months.

Not only will the ice melting trends affect Arctic marine life and local people, but could impact the entire planet. According to NASA, Arctic sea ice levels change the temperature of the Earth because the white ice reflects the sun. When it’s not present, the ocean absorbs more heat, which is typically released into the atmosphere.

Via The Guardian and NASA

Images via National Snow And Ice Data Center and NASA