Polar experts warned last Friday that disappearing Antarctic sea-ice could have a devastating impact on the continent’s role in regulating planetary temperature. The level of sea-ice, which reflects sunlight back into the atmosphere and serves as a coolant to the continent’s water, is the lowest ever recorded. The amount of ice lost to date is the equivalent of five British Isles, measuring around 1.5 million square kilometers below average.

“It’s so far outside anything we’ve seen, it’s almost mind-blowing,” says Walter Meier, who monitors sea-ice with the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

In a year when several global heat and ocean temperature records have broken, some scientists insist the low sea-ice is the measure to pay attention to.

“We can see how much more vulnerable it is,” says Dr Robbie Mallett, of the University of Manitoba, who is based on the Antarctic peninsula.

Disappearing sea-ice results in the ocean absorbing rather than reflecting sunlight. The addition of heat to water melts the ice in a process known as the “ice-albedo effect.”