What you're looking at above is an image taken today by the North Pole Environmental Observatory webcam. The water you see isn't sea water, rather it's a large meltwater lake sitting on top of the rapidly thinning ice that's increasingly typical in the Arctic.
Just let that image sink in. Not the image you probably think of when you visualize the North Pole, but there it is.
What's going on is something similar to what's been going on for a number of years now every summer, as the region continues to warm to a greater degree than the planetary average. Through the beginning of July temperatures in the Arctic are 1-3°C higher than the historical average.
The National Snow and Ice Data Center says that during the first two weeks of this month ice extent decline by 132,000 square kilometers each day, 61 percent faster than the average rate of decline over the past three decades. Compared to the average ice extent over the past 30 years for July 15, this year's ice cover is 1.06 million square kilometers below average overall, with some pretty significant regional variations whether you're looking at the Atlantic or Pacific side of the Arctic.
This follows, as Rutgers University stats show, one of the greatest shifts in snow cover on record—the Northern Hemisphere had the ninth highest average snow cover in April, followed by massive melting in May, a month that ended with the third lowest snow cover on record. Those records may only go back to 1967, but it's hugely dramatic nevertheless.
The big question—the main speculation at every time this year—is whether this year's melting will set a new record. Arctic Sea Ice Blog explains that weather plays an important role in how the sea ice melt season plays out, even though the amount of easy-to-melt ice is at a record level this year (which makes it easier for dramatic meltwater ponds to form, LiveScience reminds us). Right now ice extent is still above that of last year, which set a record low for sea ice loss.
Why is the Arctic warming to a greater degree than elsewhere? The loss of sea ice is one reason. Since sea ice reflects about 85 percent of sunlight, as the ice melts revealing water, which reflects just about 7 percent of sunlight, it allows the oceans to absorb more heat.