For the first time, researchers studying changes in the Arctic have linked individual carbon footprints to the rapid loss of the region's sea ice.

The findings, published in the journal Science, report that for every metric ton of carbon dioxide added to our atmosphere, the Arctic loses 3 square meters of sea ice. This means that, on average, each American is annually responsible for the disappearance of roughly 538 square feet of sea ice. As you can see in the map below, the European Union isn't far behind.

emissions map (Graphic: Max Planck Institut for Meteorology)

"So far, climate change has often felt like a rather abstract notion," lead author Dirk Notz said in a statement. "Our results allow us to overcome this perception. For example, it is now straight-forward to calculate that the carbon dioxide emissions for each seat on a return flight from, say, London to San Francisco causes about 5 m² of Arctic sea ice to disappear."

Over the past four decades, Arctic sea ice during the summer season has fallen by more than half. Recently the process appears to have accelerated, with this year's ice cover marking the second-lowest volume ever recorded. Conversely, a recent study found that the Arctic's regeneration of sea ice during the colder months is slowing — a worrisome sign of just how quickly climate change is impacting the region. The animation below makes the dramatic loss from 1979-2016 crystal clear:

“The overall trajectory is clear — sometime in the next few decades, maybe as early as 2030, we’ll wake up to a September with no Arctic sea ice,” Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, told the Washington Post.

That is extremely bad news, not only for species dependent on seasonal ice for survival, but also for increased chances of devastating new weather patterns over much of the world.

According to the team led by Notz, global warming would need to be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to allow the Arctic to retain some sea ice during summer. Currently, the International Paris Agreement only limits carbon dioxide emissions to 1 trillion metric tons, or a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

"We hope that this study will allow people to more intuitively grasp the mere fact that Arctic sea ice does not disappear because of some large-scale, anonymous action," Notz told Mashable, "but simply because of our little day-to-day activities."

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

How much Arctic sea ice did you melt today?
People living in the the U.S. and the E.U. are responsible for the greatest average loss of Arctic sea ice, says Max Planck Institute.