OSLO (Reuters) - Arctic sea ice has set a new winter record by freezing to the smallest maximum extent in satellite records dating back to 1979 in new evidence of long-term climate change, U.S. data showed on Thursday.
The ice floating on the Arctic Ocean around the North Pole reached a maximum extent of 14.54 million square kms (5.61 million sq miles) on Feb. 25 - an area slightly bigger than Canada - and is now expected to shrink with the spring thaw.
"This year’s maximum ice extent was the lowest in the satellite record, with below-average ice conditions everywhere except in the Labrador Sea and Davis Strait," the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said in a statement.
It said that a late season surge in ice was still possible because of big natural variations. The previous lowest maximum was set in 2011.
The ice usually reaches its annual maximum in March and, with the return of the sun to the Arctic after months of winter darkness, shrinks to its smallest in summertime in September.
The U.N. panel of climate scientists links the long-term shrinkage of the ice to climate change and says that Arctic summertime ice could vanish in the second half of the century.
The thaw is affecting indigenous lifestyles in the Arctic and making the region more accessible for oil and gas exploration, mining, shipping and tourism.
(Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Tom Heneghan)