Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest level in 38 years last month, setting a record low for the month of May and setting up conditions for what could become the smallest Arctic ice extent in history, according to National Snow and Ice Data Center data released Tuesday.

“We didn’t just break the old May record, we’re way below the previous one,” NSIDC Director Mark Serreze said.

This graph shows Arctic sea ice extent as of May 31, along with daily ice extent data for previous years.
This graph shows Arctic sea-ice extent as of May 31, along with daily ice extent data for previous years.NSIDC

Compared to normal conditions, the Arctic ice cap was missing a Texas-sized slab of ice in May. It spread across 4.63 million square miles of the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay, and adjacent areas of the North Atlantic — an area 224,000 square miles smaller than the previous low record for the month set in 2004. May’s record low follows four previous monthly record lows set in January, February, and April.

Temperatures averaged about 3 degrees C (5 degrees F) above normal across the Arctic Ocean this spring. The warmth made daily sea-ice extents average about 232,000 square miles smaller than during any May in the 38 years scientists have been gathering data using satellites.