During a recent mission off the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, a Norwegian Coast Guard icebreaker encountered unusual winter conditions for an area just 800 miles from the North Pole.

Open water.

At this time of year, sea ice usually closes in around Svalbard’s northern and eastern coasts. But not this year. The sturdy 340-foot-long, 6,375-ton KV Svalbard had no ice to break, reports Oddvar Larsen, the ship’s First Engineer…The lack of sea ice that Oddvar Larsen and his crewmates experienced around Svalbard this winter wasn’t just a small geographical anomaly. At 301,000 square miles below the long-term average, Arctic sea ice extent in December was the fourth lowest for the month in the satellite record.

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