One of the coldest places on Earth is already starting to see signs of spring — a good month or two before it should, according to researchers.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday that Barrow Observatory, located 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, just reported the earliest snowmelt in 78 years of recorded history.
“It looks like late June or early July right now,” David Douglas, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said in a statement.
The remote Alaska observatory is usually one of the last places in the United States to see its snow begin to vanish. This year, however, the snowmelt began May 13, a full 10 days earlier than the previous record set in 2002.
Welcome to the terrifying realities of global climate change.
(The animation above from the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows the fracturing and rotation of sea ice near Alaska from April 1-24.)
The worrisome snow melt comes on the heels of a record-warm Alaska winter, which saw temperatures average more than 11 degrees above normal, according to NOAA. The agency also recently announced that April 2016 was the 12th consecutive month to set a global temperature record.
Douglas said the melt in Alaska illustrates how fragile and dynamic the Arctic’s ice coverage has become. In addition to an early snowmelt, he and other scientists are expecting 2016 to see a record low for sea ice in the Arctic.
“Polar bears are having to make their decisions about how to move and where to go on thinner ice pack that’s mostly first-year ice,” Douglas said.
And the repercussions don’t stop there.
George Divoky, a wildlife biologist who heads the Friends of Cooper Island research institute, said he expects the early melt-off will have drastic effects on Alaska wildlife, including Arctic bird species.
“It’s like a train wreck you can’t look away from,” Divoky said in a statement. “You never know what you’re going to see and this year’s as big a mystery as any.”