Couldn't find element LayerAd

Error finding content

The Cryosphere and Global Climate Change - Windows to the Universe

Shop Windows to the Universe

Dig into Montana Before History: 11K Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains by D. H. MacDonald, Ph.D. See our online store book collection.

The Cryosphere and Global Climate Change

Most of us do not live in polar regions. We do not come in contact with icebergs or ice sheets very often. Most of us have only seen these things in photographs. However, no matter where you live, the snow and ice of the Earthís cryosphere has an impact on your climate.

Recent changes in the cryosphere have had a major impact on global climate. This is because the cryosphere is an important part of the Earth system and because it is so interconnected with other parts 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 affecting climate change through interactions with other parts of the Earth system and feedbacks that increase the rate of global warming.

Melting Ice Causes More Warming
When solar radiation hits snow and ice approximately 90% of it is reflected back out to space. As global warming causes more snow and ice to melt each summer, the ocean and land that were underneath the ice are exposed at the Earthís surface. Because they are darker in color, the ocean and land absorb more incoming solar radiation, and then release the heat to the atmosphere. This causes more global warming. In this way, melting ice causes more warming and so more ice melts. This is known as a feedback. According to a recent scientific study that used computer models to predict the future of Arctic sea ice, there may be no more sea ice left in the Arctic Ocean during summer within the next few decades.

Melting Permafrost Releases Greenhouse Gas
Global warming is causing soils in the polar regions that have been frozen for as much as 40,000 years to thaw. As they thaw, carbon trapped within 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 of the 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 sea level rise due to melting glaciers and ice sheets which add water to the oceans that was once trapped on land. Certain glaciers and ice sheets are particularly vulnerable. Global warming has caused them to be less stable, to move faster towards the ocean, and add more ice into the water. These areas with less stable ice include the Greenland Ice Sheet and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If the Greenland Ice Sheet melted or moved into the ocean, global sea level would rise approximately 6.5 meters. If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to melt or move into the ocean, global sea level would rise approximately 8 meters.

Last modified March 4, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Icebergs

Icebergs are large pieces of ice floating in the ocean that have broken off of ice shelves or glaciers in Earth's polar regions. They are a part of the cryosphere. Approximately 90% of an iceberg's mass...more

The Cryosphere

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 fringe...more

What Is Climate?

The climate where you live is called regional climate. It is the average weather in a place over more than thirty years. To describe the regional climate of a place, people often tell what the temperatures...more

Sea Ice in the Arctic and Antarctic

Sea ice is frozen seawater. It can be several meters thick and it moves over time. Although the salts in the seawater do not freeze, pockets of concentrated salty water become trapped in the sea ice when...more

Methane - CH4

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

Earth's Greenhouse Gases

Even though only a tiny amount of the gases in Earthís atmosphere are greenhouse gases, they have a huge effect on climate. There are several different types of greenhouse gases. The major ones are carbon...more

Effects of Climate Change Today

Over 100 years ago, people worldwide began burning more coal and oil for homes, factories, and transportation. Burning these fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF