Arctic sea ice hit a record low in May as scientists discovered the first-ever link between melting ice in Greenland and a phenomenon known to warm the area faster than the rest of the Northern Hemisphere.
The occurrence is called "Arctic amplification" and until now, scientists didn't know Greenland was linked to it, according to a study published Thursday in the British journal Nature Communications.
The phenomenon is fueled by a feedback loop where rising temperatures melt Arctic sea ice, which leaves dark open water that absorbs more warmth from the sun, thereby warming the Arctic even more. White frozen ice, on the other hand, would reflect sunlight back into space.
The study comes two days after scientists announced the average area of Arctic sea ice in May was 4.63 million square miles, about a half million square miles below average. That level sets the stage for new record lows in the coming months.
"It starts it off on a very bad footing for the summer," said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which monitors Arctic ice.
Sea ice is frozen ocean water that melts each summer and refreezes each winter. It reaches its largest area in March each year and its lowest in September. The all-time low was set in September 2012.
The amount of summer sea ice in the region has been steadily shrinking over the past few decades due to man-made global warming, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Record warm air in the Arctic fueled the May record, with temperatures about 4 to 5 degrees above average, the data center said. Whether or not a record is set this September depends on summer weather conditions, Serreze said, which cannot be predicted yet.