The changes are already apparent in the region, which has largely been ice-free during the summer since 2011. The sea ice winter maximum, which has set a record low for three years running, has been largely driven by a lack of ice in the eastern Arctic.
Polyakov said he’s seen the rapid changes in ice firsthand. When they first put buoys in the eastern Arctic in 2002, researchers had to reach the sites on heavy icebreakers.
“Now we can reach them using an ice class ship,” he said. Ice class ships are not necessarily as reinforced as icebreakers.
The sea ice changes are having profound impacts outside of researchers’ ability to access more remote sites. Other research published earlier this week in Science Advances shows that thinning sea ice is allowing phytoplankton to bloom across the region.
RELATED: Thinning Arctic Ice Is Breeding Dangerous Phytoplankton Blooms
Phytoplankton are tiny plants, and like your average potted plant, they need sunlight to bloom. Sea ice has been thick enough to prevent that from happening until very recently. The new findings show that over the past decade, up to 30 percent of the Arctic has become primed for summer blooms.
“Both of our results show the Arctic becoming a very different place than it has been in the past,” Christopher Hovart, an oceanographer at Harvard who led the plankton study, said. “Water pathways are changing, the ecology is changing, all driven by the declining sea ice field.”
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