By Chelsea Ingram

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Arctic sea ice extent is at the second lowest level it’s ever been on record.

The sea ice that surrounds the Arctic fluctuates with the seasons.

During the winter months, it grows until reaching an annual maximum extent during February and March. And this year, researchers say an alarming trend continues as Arctic sea ice grew to it’s winter maximum this month, peaking at 5.59 million square miles.

While that might sound like a lot, it’s actually the second smallest amount on record since satellite measurements began and it’s only 23,000 square miles larger than the lowest extent ever recorded which occurred just last year.

So why does this matter and how does it affect us?

“The melting of sea ice isn’t just a result of warming temperatures. It can actually feed back into the overall warming of our planet,” Climate Central’s Sean Sublette said.

As sea ice melts, the ocean absorbs more heat, allowing temperatures to rise, and the cycle continues.

“There’s an old adage in climate science, that what happens in the arctic doesn’t necessarily stay in the Arctic,” Sublette said.

Changes in arctic sea ice also affect ocean circulation, contributing to coastal erosion and alter shipping routes.

“We’re not so concerned about sea ice being gone during the winter anytime soon,” Sublette said. “But in the summer, when it’s at a minimum anyway, there are some suggestions that in the coming decades, not really soon, but in the coming decades, a good substantial amount of the arctic could be ice free.”

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