For the first time in modern history, the North Pole may be iceless this summer. Scientists say it's an even bet that sea ice in the region will completely disappear in the next few months, perhaps as soon as August.

Ice at the North Pole quickly and significantly melted away last year, and that may be causing further melting this summer. Scientists say the disappearance of long-term and thicker ice formed over the years has disappeared. Now, most of the ice that's left is seasonal ice, which melts away much more quickly during warm weather.

"This year there is a lot of young ice. There's always some, but this year there's a lot," Andy Mahoney, a researcher at the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center, told

Satellite observations indicate the ice remaining at the poles is melting faster than last year's rate, which was already a record year for Arctic ice loss. Scientists say whether or not the ice melts completely, this year's northern melt is yet another example of the impact that global warming is having on the planet's environment.

"There were some people who were saying last year was a rogue year. If the same thing happens again a lot more people are going to be persuaded about the consequences of global warming," Mahoney said.

"A lot of people think it's a very small change in temperature. This shows that the change in sea ice is quite a dramatic consequence."

As the ice melts, interest in the region is intensifying. Canada and other nations that border the Arctic -- including Russia and the U.S. -- are scrambling to lay claims to vast parts of the area, which may someday allow new resource development and shipping lanes.

"If the North Pole melts, then you don't have to worry about the Northwest Passage. It will still be significant, but going on top of the globe would be politically easier," Mahoney said.

A UN panel is supposed to decide on control of the Arctic by 2020. Last year, Canada's Conservative government announced plans to acquire up to eight Arctic patrol ships and to build an army base in Resolute Bay and a naval station in Nanisivik.

Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Arctic countries have 10 years after ratification to prove their claims under the largely uncharted polar ice pack. All countries with claims to the Arctic have ratified the treaty, with the exception of the United States.