Arctic sea ice coverage has shrunk to a near-record low this year, a deputy chief of Russian meteorological service Rosgidromet said on Wednesday.
"The area of ice is currently 32% below normal... The trend is to lose some 2-3% [of the Arctic ice] annually. But this is unusual. This year reminds me of 2007; weather conditions were a bit harsher in 2008, 2009 and 2010," Valery Dyadyuchenko said.
He said the Northern Sea Route is now completely ice-free, allowing vessels to travel without being escorted by icebreakers. These conditions will continue until the end of September.
Scientists at the University of Bremen in Germany earlier said that this year's ice coverage is already the lowest on record, with the ice cap shrinking to 4.24 million square kilometers as of September 8, which is 27,000 square kilometers (0.6%) less than the previous record low in 2007.
Scientists say the shrinkage can no longer be attributed to natural global weather cycles. Climate modeling demonstrates that the loss of Arctic ice is a result of global warming caused by human activity, they say.
The U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) said Arctic ice areas shrank to 5.52 million square kilometers last month, only 160,000 square kilometers above the absolute minimum for August recorded in 2007.