Icebergs in the Southern Ocean
Click on image for full size
The Cryosphere and Global Climate Change
Did you know that even if you have never seen an iceberg or glacier, the snow and ice of the Earth’s cryosphere has a big impact on the climate where you live? Changes in the amounts of snow and ice on Earth have a big impact on the climate of our planet. This is because the cryosphere is a very important part of the Earth system. Scientists are currently studying just how much the frozen places on Earth affect global warming.
Below are some of the ways that the cryosphere has been affected by, and is affecting, global warming.
Melting Ice Causes More Warming
Almost all of the Sun’s rays that hit snow and ice are reflected back out to space. As more snow and ice melt because of global warming, the ocean and land that were underneath the ice are exposed at the Earth’s surface. The ocean and land absorb more of the Sun’s rays because they are dark in color. They release the heat to the atmosphere. This causes more global warming.
Melting Permafrost Releases Greenhouse Gas
Global warming is causing frozen soils in the polar regions to thaw. As they thaw, carbon trapped in the soils is released into the atmosphere as methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The methane released to the atmosphere causes more global warming, which then melts more frozen soils.
Less Ice on Land Means Sea Level Rises
Sea level has been rising about 1-2 millimeters each year as the Earth has become warmer. Some of the rise is because melting glaciers and ice sheets are adding water to the oceans that was once trapped on land. Today, certain glaciers and ice sheets are more unstable than others. They are moving faster towards the ocean than they used to be, and are adding more ice into the water. These areas with less stable ice include the Greenland Ice Sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist
, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store
You might also be interested in:
Frozen water is found in many different places on Earth. Snow blankets the ground at mid and high latitudes during winter. Sea ice and icebergs float in the chilly waters of polar oceans. Ice shelves are...more
How do you know to pack your bathing suit and sunhat for a trip to a tropical island or pack warm sweaters and coats for a trip to Alaska? If you know a little about regional climates, then you know what...more
Methane is a kind of gas. There is a small amount of methane in the air you breathe. A methane molecule has carbon and hydrogen atoms in it. Methane is a greenhouse gas. That means it helps make Earth...more
Only a tiny amount of the gases in Earth’s atmosphere are greenhouse gases. But they have a huge effect on climate. There are several different types of greenhouse gases, but they all have something in...more
Have you ever taken your temperature to see if you are getting sick? Scientists have been taking the Earth's temperature and have found that it is getting warmer. During the past 100 years, the Earth's...more
The climate had become warmer during the past few decades in the north polar region . Temperatures are rising twice as fast as they are elsewhere in the world. Warmer temperatures cause other things to...more
Global warming is changing our planet in many ways. The place that is changing the most right now is the Arctic. The native people, called Inuit, see how the place that they live is changing. Their ways...more