The Arctic Ocean has lost 95 percent of its oldest ice — a startling sign of what’s to come

Over the past three decades of global warming, the oldest and thickest ice in the Arctic has declined by a stunning 95 percent, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card.

The finding suggests that the sea at the top of the world has already morphed into a new and very different state, with major implications not only for creatures such as walruses and polar bears but, in the long term, perhaps for the pace of global warming itself.

The oldest ice can be thought of as a kind of glue that holds the Arctic together and, through its relative permanence, helps keep the Arctic cold even in long summers.

“The younger the ice, the thinner the ice, the easier it is to go away,” said Don Perovich, a scientist at Dartmouth who coordinated the sea ice section of the yearly report.

If the Arctic begins to experience entirely ice-free summers, scientists say, the planet will warm even more, as the dark ocean water absorbs large amounts of solar heating that used to be deflected by the cover of ice.

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