Winter Arctic ice coverage tied for lowest ever recorded

Sea ice coverage in the Arctic shrank to one of its lowest levels in decades this winter -- more bad news for polar bears that need it to survive.

Since the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., began tracking sea ice three decades ago, only 2005-06 saw as little ice during a Northern Hemisphere winter -- 5.65 million square miles, a tie with this winter.

That's nearly 8 percent less than the average of 6.12 million square miles recorded from 1979 to 2000.

Polar sea ice reached its maximum on March 7, according to the center. As of March 22, ice coverage had declined five consecutive days, leading climate scientists to conclude it will only shrink further. However, scientists noted, sea ice responds rapidly to winds and temperature this time of year and could expand again.

The date of the maximum has ranged from Feb. 18 to March 31 since scientists have tracked it.

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