Melting ice opens up the Arctic to tourism — and danger

For centuries, ambitious mariners pining to traverse the Arctic Circle experienced little more than disappointment — and often death.

But diminishing sea ice and more temperate weather have made traveling through polar waters a vacation rather than an exploration.

The area covered by Arctic sea ice in December was 420,900 square miles smaller than the 1981-2010 average, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That represents an area more than one and a half times the size of Texas — and was the second-lowest level recorded by satellite since 1979.