The normal covering of multiyear ice (ice that is present year-round for more than one year) in the Arctic Ocean has vanished, opening up possible summer shipping routes over the top of the world.
Ice in the North Pole is melting extremely fast, more quickly even than the rest of the globe, partly because of what is known as the albedo feedback effect: essentially, the loss of reflective ice creates open water that absorbs the sun's rays rather than reflecting them, which further warms the water.
The Arctic's multiyear ice used to be found in large sheets of up to 80 meters thick, creating an impenetrable barrier for ships. Melting caused by global warming has now created hundreds of miles of "rotten ice", which is less sound and melts much faster than regular ice.
Some experts believe that by the summer of 2030, the Arctic may be seasonally ice-free.