WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. government scientists say ice covering the Arctic ocean reached its second lowest extent on record this winter.

For most of the winter, sea ice in the Arctic was at record lows, but cold March winds helped the ice expand just beyond the low set in 2017.

Scientists from National Snow and Ice Data Center said Friday Arctic sea ice peaked at 5.59 million square miles (14.48 square kilometers). That’s 448,000 square miles (1,160,000 square kilometers) below normal.

The last four years have seen the lowest sea ice maximums since satellite tracking began in 1979.

Arctic sea ice helps moderate global climate. Some studies connect its loss to more extreme weather further south, including winter storms like those that have smacked North America and Europe in recent weeks.

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