The Arctic sea ice has shrunk to the second lowest level recorded, according to NASA and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Based on the agency’s and the university’s National Snow and Ice Data Center satellite data, the sea ice is at 1.60 million square miles or 4.14 million square kilometers as of Sept. 10.

The Arctic sea ice minimum extent for this year is similar to the one recorded in 2007. When sea ice monitoring began 1978, experts lamented that the Arctic ice has been decreasing for every month of the year and the ice is not rebounding to where it used to be even in winter.

The Arctic sea ice helps regulate Earth’s temperature, and although sea ice shrinks are expected annually, the research team was surprised by the changing pace of the Arctic sea ice.

They found that melting ice was slow in March and then sped up in May. The melting of the ice slowed down again in June and July but two massive storms caused the Arctic ice to melt rapidly in August through early September.

“It’s pretty remarkable that this year’s sea ice minimum extent ended up the second lowest after how the melt progressed in June and July,” points out Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. “June and July are usually key months for melt because that’s when you have 24 hours a day of sunlight – and this year, we lost melt momentum during those two months.”

The sea ice scientist says that the melt season would normally alleviate in the middle of August in the past. Moreover, there has not been a record high in Arctic sea ice in 37 years of monthly sea ice record, with senior climate scientist and the study’s main author Claire Parkinson saying, “To think that in this record of Arctic sea ice that goes back to the late 1970s, since 1986 there hasn’t been a single record high in any month of the year, and yet, over that same period, there have been 75 record lows. It’s just an incredible contrast.”